As the fighting continues between Israel and Palestinians, a study released less than two weeks ago by international aid agency World Vision has exposed disturbingly high levels of trauma in Gaza's children before this latest wave of violence.
More than 16 per cent of children aged 5-15 in North Gaza suffer from nightmares, the majority of which (76.7 per cent) are caused by fear.
Almost 13 per cent of children in the same age range wet the bed, again mostly (70) through fear. Psychological problems, health issues and trauma were also contributing causes, the assessment revealed.
World Vision’s study was released in late December, just prior to the recent outbreak in fighting, and since then staff have seen the situation in children worsen significantly.
“After six days of bombing, the number of children showing signs of trauma is rapidly increasing,” said Mohammad El Halaby, World Vision’s programme manager in North Gaza today.
The current escalation of violence is unprecedented in both scope and destruction. After weeks of a debilitating blockade of Gaza’s borders, the surge in military violence has had a compounding effect on civilians, particularly children, who suffer emotionally and physically as a result of the violence.
An untold number of children in Gaza and southern Israel live in fear as a result of the broken ceasefire.
“The reality is that this current violence is already compounding high levels of trauma in children, and one can only guess at the long-term effects of this,” said World Vision UK’s head of emergency affairs, Ian Gray.
“There’s the initial impact on children, which we’re already seeing – frequent bed-wetting, nightmares, and a heartbreaking loss of hope – but there’s also the long-term trauma that will devastate for years to come.
“Children comprise more than half of the population of Gaza. The ongoing attacks will only worsen their situation.
“There needs to be an immediate cessation in fighting to protect children’s safety, integrity and dignity now – as well as their wellbeing into the future.”
World Vision has consistently called for all sides to refrain from violence. An end to the 18 month blockade of 1.5 million Palestinians, which has devastated the Gazan economy, halted services, and rendered its people to be entirely dependent on humanitarian assistance, is unacceptable.
“We are deeply concerned with the lasting impact of this violence on the affected populations,” said Ian.
“Every child has the right to live in safety, free from violence, fear and want. All parties involved in the conflict must remember that and act accordingly.”
The current bombardment comes at a time when the Gazan population is already severely afflicted, living in dire poverty.
World Vision is calling on the Quartet (comprised of the European Union, the UN Secretary General, the United States and the Russian Federation) to more vigorously engage in efforts to bring about an immediate ceasefire.
Once a ceasefire is in place, urgent efforts must be taken to renew a process aimed at securing a lasting solution to this long-standing conflict.