| 10.5°C Dublin

Gaza's children are innocent, yet they suffered most in the war


A mother and her child look out from her Gaza City apartment which has been badly damaged from artillery fire. Photo: Mark Condren

A mother and her child look out from her Gaza City apartment which has been badly damaged from artillery fire. Photo: Mark Condren

A mother and her child look out from her Gaza City apartment which has been badly damaged from artillery fire. Photo: Mark Condren

We are approaching the first anniversary of the war which engulfed Gaza and its inhabitants throughout the summer of 2014.

During a visit to Gaza, I saw with my own eyes the tragic and ongoing human cost of this war.

It is not for me to say who is right or wrong among the protagonists or whether the level of violence was justified or proportionate.

What I can say for certain, however, is that the human cost of this war has been enormous: 539 completely innocent children lost their lives, 3,370 more suffered life-changing injuries and 54,000 people saw their homes destroyed. These are shattered lives and broken families.

Apart from the human cost, the physical cost has been immense. On entering Gaza through the highly militarised buffer zone comprising three check points (those of Israel, Hamas and the Palestinian Authority), I was struck by the sheer level of destruction which this short war caused.

The capacity of weapons and artillery to wreak havoc is there for all to see. Everywhere there remains the shells of houses, apartments, schools and hospitals, all destroyed in 50 days. It was tragic to see children playing on a swing yards away from their former home, which could collapse on them at any moment.

The children are reduced to living in metal sheds and other temporary accommodation. While I was in Gaza the temperature inside one of these metal "houses" reached 52C.

The people who suffered most, and who had no part in starting this war, are the children. They have lost parents, siblings, houses, schools and hospitals.

Unicef is on the ground in Gaza for years and helped with the early phase of recovery and reconstruction.

Unicef is now trying to help the children rebuild their lives in the middle of a humanitarian crisis. One of the biggest problems now facing the children of Gaza is the lack of clean water.

In last year's war, 90pc of the water services were either destroyed or badly damaged.

Unicef is working hard to restore water services and this includes the construction of a new desalination plant together with 15km of piping to service 50,000 people. We are also working to get children back to school and to provide the psychological support which many of them need on an ongoing basis to deal with the trauma which they have suffered.

The decades long Israeli - Palestinian conflict is the forgotten humanitarian crisis of our time and has caused acute levels of distress among Palestinian children. Their basic needs, including protection from violence and poverty, and providing a safe environment for their education, are not being fulfilled. Too many Palestinian children have been killed or injured as a result of this protracted conflict.

Their daily lives are hampered by poverty, military operations, access restrictions, lack of clean water and lack of safe play areas. For the children of Gaza, the conditions for their development are not present.

This year marks the 25th anniversary of The Convention on the Rights of the Child. The Convention clearly states that every child, everywhere, has a right to a childhood, to be educated, to be healthy and to thrive.

Unicef is working hard to repair the damage caused to their lives and to ensure that these children can fulfil these rights.

As the first anniversary of the war approaches, my sense during my visit to Gaza is that the Palestinian children have become more resilient in the face of hardship, but they need ongoing help.

The people of Ireland have shown a deep seated empathy with the children of Gaza for many years and with your continuing support Unicef will fight for their rights and for their future.

Peter Power is the executive director of Unicef Ireland and a former Minister of State for Foreign Affairs. To help Unicef, go to www.unicef.ie

Irish Independent