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UNICEF Offers Psychosocial Support to Traumatised Children in Gaza

UNITED NATIONS, Aug 21 2014 (IPS) - Children in Gaza are in desperate need of psychosocial support to cope with the violence and destruction they have witnessed, both on a physical and emotional level, a U.N. official saidThursday.

Addressing a news conference here, Pernilla Ironside, head of the U.N. Children’s Fund (UNICEF) office in Gaza, told reporters: “We’re on a very slippery slope in terms of Gaza’s children, I would say we are possibly on a precipice.”

Currently, a total of 50 psychologists are on the ground providing counselling to 3,000 children. UNICEF estimates at least 373,000 are in immediate need of psychosocial first aid and it is likely that the programme will take years.

“We are still working with kids from the last conflict”, the U.N. official remarked, adding that a 7-year-old child would have experienced three conflicts by now.

Following the latest escalation of violence in Gaza, the death toll among children is 469, figure that includes the nine who were confirmed dead just in the last 48 hours. Over 3,000 children were injured and 400,000 people displaced.

The U.N. agency, which focuses on children, aims at re-instilling the sense of security they need. Kids feel there is no safe place in Gaza and their parents cannot help either, as they are traumatised too: every single family in Gaza, according to Ironside, has experienced direct loss.

The Fund is also providing water, blankets, some basic services and it is appealing for lifesaving drugs and vaccines. The situation reached a point where children wished they had died rather than enduring this continuing suffering, the UNICEF official said, recounting a conversation she had with a young girl. These children have lost hope.

Education has a very important role in these young lives in this delicate time when they are very impressionable. “We risk having children sliding to sentiments of intolerance and hatred and potentially even extremism unless we give them a reason to believe that there is a more hopeful future available for them”, Ironside warned.

Teaching should resume on 24 August but with more than 200 schools being used as shelters, this is impossible, she said. UNICEF and the Ministry of Education will launch a “back to school” campaign, to renovate school buildings and provide pupils with the necessary means to learn.

Children should not be reminded of the horror of the war when they go back to school, in the same premises where they fled looking for safety and found suffering and death instead.

Gaza’s economy is also depressed as the unemployment rate has kept soaring even before this conflict, with 80 percent of the people dependent on some sort of aid.

Ironside called for a change in the current system of administration of goods in which Israel is strongly in control.

At the current state of things Ironside says that it would take 18 years to rebuild the 17,000 housing units that have been destroyed.

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