New Zealander Damian Rance, Chief of Communications and Advocacy at UNICEF State of Palestine is based in Jerusalem. Damian speaks to RNZ about the on-going crisis for children.
What is the current situation for children in Gaza?
In the last two hours, the number of children killed in the Gaza strip has gone up. Now 63 children have been killed and over 460 are reportedly injured. We’re seeing a dire humanitarian situation in the Gaza strip at the moment. Around 60% of the electricity network has been cut and over half of the water supply in the Gaza strip has disappeared. Families were already struggling to find clean water before this crisis. We’re seeing is a mental health crisis amongst the children facing ten days now of relentless bombardment. The psychosocial support required to address these issues that we’re seeing in children is massive.
On 17 May 2021, a Palestinian girl and boy salvage items from inside their damaged home after being targeted in Gaza City.
I have a colleague who has a nine-year-old daughter with autism and every time a bomb falls and there are hundreds of them, she has a hysteria fit and is apologising because she thinks it’s her fault that they are being bombed. Children are vomiting when bombs land because of stress. It’s an extremely traumatic process for the children in the Gaza strip.
UNICEF delivers aid in Gaza. Is that being affected by the current situation?
We have had prepositioned supplies in the Gaza strip. We knew that a conflict was always a possibility. UNICEF and other UN agencies do have prepositioned material but not enough to manage the large numbers of humanitarian cases that we’re seeing.
We’ve distributed saline solution, glucose, oral rehydration salts and antibiotics. That’s enough for about 72,000 people but about the same number of people have been displaced, so the needs outstrip what we can actually deliver at the moment.
We are hoping to get humanitarian access to the Gaza strip. We tried to get into the Gaza strip yesterday but insecurity forced us to turn back at one of the crossing points. We are going to try again tomorrow and if we can coordinate properly and the cessation of hostilities occurs then hopefully we will be able to get aid to where it is needed most.
On 17 May 2021, a Palestinian girl stands in front of their home as her family extracts their possessions from inside their damaged home after being targeted in Gaza City.
So you’ve got plenty of aid ready to go into Gaza, it’s a case of needing a ceasefire so that you can get it in?
That’s absolutely right. We do have aid ready to go in to the Gaza strip. We have a convoy of five trucks prepared to drive in yesterday and unfortunately they were turned back at the last hurdle. We’ve got saline solution, we’ve got antibiotics, we’ve got infection control measures, fire extinguishers, first aid kits, water purification equipment that we are trying to take into the Gaza strip now and hopefully that will occur very soon.
Above all else, what we need is cessation of hostilities or at the very least a humanitarian pause that will allow us a moment of respite to try and bring aid in and allow people to go and visit their loved ones. Many people have lost family members, they are unable to get to assistance or aid locations currently. We would like to see a humanitarian pause if nothing else.
Electricity generation and the supplies required to do that, how problematic is that? Is that likely to run out soon?
It’s a significant problem. There is only 50% of the power supply at the moment and the hospitals require generators to run. The water treatment plants, the water wells, the desalination plant, the waste water treatment plant that deals with the sewage – all of these facilities and utilities require diesel to run. Aside from damaged powerlines, which there are quite a number, the main reason the electricity is being load shared and scarce at the moment is because of the shortage of fuel used to power the one power station in the Gaza Strip which runs off diesel. Hospitals have intensive equipment. They have baby incubators and surgical equipment. There have been many traumatic injuries and diesel is required to run the generators for those hospitals.
On 17 May 2021, a Palestinian boy inspects his home, which was targeted by the Israeli warplanes, in Gaza City during the escalation.
The Israeli Defence Force argues that they are targeting Hamas targets. For the people of Gaza and the number of people there, what is happening in terms of any shelter or any areas they can go to get sanctuary?
Gaza is one of the most densely populated places on earth. It is roughly 40 kilometres long and 14 kilometres wide at its widest point and has a population of two million people, half of whom are children under the age of 18. There is really nowhere for people to hide at the moment. There is nowhere to escape the bombardment. 50,000 people are congregating at designated shelter locations. One of the UN agencies has schools that they’ve opened up to receive people that have been displaced but the needs are significant.