Gaza: 1 million children suffering in ‘unlivable’ conditions

PRESS RELEASE
Save the Children

One million children in Gaza are living in dire conditions. Many celebrated Eid in the dark without electricity. A UN report in 2012 said Gaza would be unlivable by 2020. Save the Children considers Gaza to be unlivable now.

People walk past a destroyed building, Gaza City 2014 (Photo: Julie Webb-Pullman)

People walk past a destroyed building, Gaza City 2014 (Photo: Julie Webb-Pullman)

Save the Children urges Israel to lift the Gaza blockade and for Palestinian and Israeli authorities to provide basic services to the residents of Gaza. the international community has failed to react to the suffering of Palestinian children in Gaza. A decade of isolation had reduced power available to households to just eight hours per day. Now families are lucky if they get two hours of electricity per day. Far too many get nothing at all.

The power shortages are also affecting Gaza’s already crippled infrastructure. The shortening or suspension of sewage treatment cycles has led to increased levels of pollution and contamination of groundwater sources and the Mediterranean Sea, leaving more than 60% of the sea around Gaza contaminated with untreated sewage and over 90% of water sources too contaminated for human consumption.

For Gaza’s children, the power shortages mean they’re unable to:

– Have access to limited health and emergency services, putting lives at risk.
– Access clean drinking water, due to non-functioning desalination plants.
– Take regular baths/showers, due to non-functioning water pumps.
– Sleep at night, due to the summer heat.
– Concentrate at school, due to lack of sleep.
– Complete homework or play outside, due to the dark.
– Eat fresh and healthy food, due to lack of refrigeration.

The situation is particularly bad for 15-year-old Ali* who suffers from a form of cerebral palsy. His mother Yara* said:

“My son is dying in front of my eyes. He can’t sleep most nights, and suffers from continuous pain. We don’t have enough power to get his electric wheelchair and mattress fully charged. If his wheelchair doesn’t get charged, he suffers psychologically, as he sees people around him move and walk but he can’t. He feels depressed and often fights with other children. When the wheelchair runs out of battery, Ali becomes totally paralysed.”

“He also needs constant showers as he is wearing diapers, but there is no water. We don’t get water unless there is electricity. If I don’t change his diapers and wash him regularly he will suffer from skin rashes and other problems. We have not had any tap water for two days. I feel suffocated.”

Jennifer Moorehead, Country Director, Occupied Palestinian Territory, Save the Children, said:

“Sadly, the children of Gaza are caught in one of the most politicised conflicts in the world. The continued Israeli occupation and splits within the Palestinian leadership are making life unbearable. If you’re ten years old in Gaza you’ve already witnessed three massive and violent escalations of conflict.”

“While politicians celebrate Eid and sleep in their air-conditioned homes, Gaza’s children are sweating in the stifling summer heat, unable to sleep, play or study. We shouldn’t have to be demanding such a basic service as electricity for the children of Gaza. A couple of hours of power a day is just not acceptable in 2017.”

“Gaza’s children are already suffering through a ten-year blockade and the constant threat of conflict. Living without access to basic services like electricity is affecting their family life and mental well-being. We’re seeing increased levels of anxiety, aggression and mood swings.”

*names changed for security purposes.

Context:

2017 marks 10 years of the air, sea and land blockade imposed by the Israeli government on the Gaza Strip. Since 2007, two million Palestinians (including 1 million children) have been trapped in just 139 square miles, making the Gaza Strip one of the most densely populated places in the world. A report from July 2017 by the UN Country Team in the Occupied Palestinian Territories outlines a worsening humanitarian crisis:

– 47% of the population of the Gaza Strip live under the poverty line and suffer from moderate to severe food insecurity.
– 40% of the population is unemployed.
– Approximately 80% of the population relies on humanitarian assistance.
– 47% of households fail to meet the international standard for food consumption.

Environmental crisis:

– A UN report from 2012 said that Gaza would be unlivable by 2020 and many experts warn that Gaza has already reached that point.
– 96% of the groundwater is considered unfit for human consumption.
– The shortening or suspension of sewage treatment cycles has led to increased pollution of the sea along Gaza’s coast, with over 108 million litres of untreated sewage discharged daily into the Mediterranean Sea, which is the equivalent to 40 Olympic-size swimming pools. This leaves over 60% of the sea contaminated with sewage.
– The Palestinian Water Authority and the United Nations have warned that its underground water aquifer may be completely contaminated by the end of the year, as it contains a large concentration of chloride, and the infiltration of untreated sewage has raised the levels of nitrates to two to eight times higher than the World Health Organization recommends.
– The last environmental assessment of the Gaza Strip was conducted by the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) in 2009, but successive UNEP environmental assessment missions have been denied entry by Israeli authorities. A follow up assessment should therefore be conducted urgently.

Electricity crisis:

The situation in Gaza has further deteriorated following the intensification of its longstanding electricity deficit.

– In April 2017, Gaza’s sole power plant (which, while not functioning at full capacity since its destruction in the 2009 war on Gaza, had provided one third of the Gaza Strip’s electricity) was forced to shut down after completely exhausting its fuel reserves as the operators were unable to replenish them due to a shortage of funds.
– In the Gaza Strip, families’ access to the power supply dropped by one third, from an average 182 megawatts (MW) in February 2017 to 127 MW in July 2017, and as little as 113 MW in mid-August 2017 which is the equivalent of an average of 2-4 hours of electricity per day. Egypt as a supplier has completely dropped out, so the Gaza Strip is relying on electricity from its power plant and Israel.

SAVE THE CHILDREN’S REPONSE

Child Protection:

– Save the Children will distribute 800 family recreational kits, reaching a total of 2,400 vulnerable children aged 8-14 years.
– Save the Children, through its child protection and education partners, will deliver 15 school and community-based recreational fun days with psychosocial activities in five United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA)-run schools. Another 25 open days will be implemented in community-based facilities and public spaces, reaching a total of 17,500 children.
– Save the Children, through its partners the Palestinian Center for Democracy and Conflict Resolution (PCDCR) and the MA’AN news agency, will also organize stress release workshops, reaching a total of 3,000 parents.

Food Security & Livelihoods:

– Save the Children will provide food e-vouchers for 700 families. The vouchers can also be used to buy LED lights, copper wires, batteries, and chargers.

Education:

– Save the Children, together with its partner Save Youth Future Society (SYFS), will distribute a total of 20 school recreational kits to 20 UNRWA-run schools, to improve 20,000 school children’s posttraumatic stress wellbeing.
– Save the Children will also conduct a two-day stress management workshop with 150 teachers from 15 UNRWA schools. These will help teachers develop resilience to cope with the pressures imposed on them during the current electricity crisis.
– Save the Children will provide 1,500 children from 15 UNRWA schools who have learning difficulties with structured remedial and catch up classes in Arabic, English and math.

Water, Sanitation & Hygiene:

– Save the Children will supply and install 1500 litre Polyethylene household water tanks for 2,300 families in coordination with the Coastal Municipal Water Authority (CMWU) and local partners in Northern and Eastern parts of the Gaza Strip.
– Save the Children will install, supply, and fix LED lighting systems for 200 poor families and in 100 kindergartens to overcome the electricity and power outage.