As early recovery work begins, the toll of conflict on Gaza’s children is clear
By Roshni Karwal
NEW YORK, USA, 21 January 2009 – Amira, 15, is a survivor. After her two siblings and father were killed during the conflict in the Gaza Strip, she crawled from her family’s home and was found three days later in a neighbour’s house.
“She was alone for three days in the street and no one passed in that neighbourhood,” Amira’s mother recalls.
Amira herself remembers: “My father went outside, telling us, ‘I want sit outside with my friends and read the Quran so that you can sleep well and not be scared.’” Shortly thereafter, she says, her father and the others died in a missile strike.
The three-week conflict, which halted with a ceasefire this past weekend, has left a trail of destruction – including thousands of homes destroyed and damaged. Before the ceasefire was declared, some 50,000 people sought refuge in UN shelters. Only now are many Gazans making their way home again.
“UNICEF is very active in the early recovery,” says UNICEF Special Representative for the Occupied Palestinian Territory Patricia McPhillips.
“We are also looking to help children who could perhaps be displaced,” she adds. “We are working at setting up immediately 30 youth and protection centres for these children – community centres where they will be able to go while their families are trying to put their lives back together.”
Some 1,300 people were killed and thousands more injured during the conflict. The physical and psychological toll on children has been immense.
“Honestly, the situation is very bad, because it is a first time we are dealing with these types of injuries for children,” notes Dr. Imad Al Majdalawi, a surgeon at Gaza’s Shifa Hospital.
Children ‘bear the brunt’
For aid agencies in Gaza, a major focus now is on their capacity to provide psychosocial support to vulnerable families and children, and on their capacity for a more structured, rapid assessment of humanitarian needs.
UNICEF partners have already been active in undertaking house-to-house assessment visits, as well as limited visits to some of the UN shelters. These will continue in the weeks and months to come.
“We are immediately targeting psychosocial [needs]. We have a team of counsellors that is on the ground moving around now. We are also trying to get education going,” says Ms. McPhillips.
“Children are going to bear the brunt of this,” she notes, referring to the conflict’s short- and long-term effects on boys and girls like Amira. “They should not be victims of the political context in which they live.”