Stress and pressure on Gaza children 'rarely seen' elsewhere, Unicef says

The number of children killed in the 11 weeks of war is among the highest in recent conflicts

Palestinian children sift through debris following an Israeli attack in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip. AFP
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The intensity of stress and pressure on children in Gaza caused by the Israeli war is “rarely seen” in other conflicts, the United Nations Children's Fund said.

Adele Khodr, Unicef Middle East and North Africa regional director, told The National in an interview that the number of children killed in the 11 weeks of relentless bombing is among the highest in recent conflicts.

More than 20,000 people have been killed in Gaza since the Israeli military launched its offensive in response to attacks by Hamas, the Palestinian militant group that rules the enclave, in southern Israel on October 7, killing about 1,200 people and taking some 240 hostages.

At least 8,000 children and 6,200 women are among those killed in Gaza, according to the local health authorities. More than 53,000 people have been injured, although the number may be far higher.

“The intensity and the frequency of what we have seen in Gaza in terms of the mental stress on children and the psychological pressure is something we have rarely seen,” Ms Khodr said.

“There is nowhere safe in Gaza,” she said. Many children in Gaza have been forced to keep moving to avoid bombing. They “remain sort of stuck in a constant cycle of being exposed to violence and fear”.

The conflict has displaced most of Gaza's population (2.2 million) and devastated its infrastructure, particularly health facilities. The delivery of aid into the territory has been slowed by strict Israeli checks.

Alarming rate of death

Unicef said the war is having a catastrophic effect on children and families. Children are dying “at an alarming rate”, while over 1.7 million people have been displaced – half of them children. They do not have enough access to water, food, fuel and medicine. Their homes have been destroyed; their families torn apart.

“The number of children [killed] is among the highest we have seen compared to other conflict situations,” Ms Khodr said.

UN data showed that the number of children killed in Gaza in 11 weeks has surpassed the annual number of children killed across the world's conflict zones since 2019.

According to the Annual Reports of the UN Secretary General on Children and Armed Conflict, about 2,674 children were killed in 22 countries in 2020; 2,515 children were killed across 24 countries in 2021; 2,985 children were killed across 24 countries in 2022; 4,019 children were killed across 20 countries in 2019.

Many children have been orphaned or labelled as a “wounded child, no surviving family” (WCNSF) by medical workers who say the number of such cases is higher than in any of the numerous wars Gaza has witnessed.

Ms Khodr told The National that Unicef needs security to be able to distribute supplies and aid across the enclave, and called for “sustainable humanitarian access”.

“Security is something very important because unless we have that, then the lorries cannot move, and our workers and our partners cannot be on the ground, delivering the aid,” she said.

On Friday, the UN Security Council adopted a resolution aimed at increasing aid to the Gaza Strip and setting the conditions for a reduction in violence, as the world body said Israel's assault on the enclave is pushing Palestinians towards famine.

Lack of food and water

According to a study by the Integrated Food Security Phase Classification, the UN's hunger monitoring system, more than one in four households in Gaza are facing extreme hunger.

There are about 335,000 children under the age of five who are at a high risk of severe food deprivation, which can have fatal consequences.

“Children with severe malnutrition coupled with infection could lead to death,” Ms Khodr said.

Unicef reports that many children are not getting any nutritious food or protein at all, with some eating only rice or bread with a cup of tea.

There is also a dangerous shortage of water.

Children only have access to between 1.5 litres to two litres of water each day, well below the recommended requirements for survival, Ms Khodr said.

According to humanitarian standards, the minimum amount of water needed in an emergency is 15 litres, which includes water for drinking, washing and cooking.

For survival alone, the estimated minimum is 3 litres per day.

Updated: December 23, 2023, 6:36 AM