Children's death toll rises to 469 in Gaza: UNICEF official

# 21 August 2014 23:17 (UTC +04:00)

Baku-APA. A senior official of the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) said here Thursday that a total of 469 children were killed in the Gaza Strip, where the situation is "dire" because of its debilitating effect on the 1 million Gaza Strip inhabitants under the age of 18, APA reports quoting Xinhua.

"This situation is very dire in terms of the impact and the toll (it) has on children," Pernille Ironside, chief of Gaza Occupied Palestinian Territory field office for the UNICEF, said at a press conference here, days after renewed fighting broke out between Hamas and Israel.

"In the last 48 hours, nine more children have been killed," she said. "Unfortunately, this brings our (death toll) to 469 children as of this morning."

The latest round of fighting came shortly after a 24-hour ceasefire extension between Israel and the Palestinian militants announced by the Egyptian government earlier this week.

The impact from fighting has been vast on a physical level because of casualties, injuries and the damage to the Strip's infrastructure, she said, adding that more importantly, it has had a destabilizing emotional and psychological impact on children.

Children are feeling like there isn't anywhere safe to go, said the UN official, who is a Canadian-born human rights lawyer and child advocate with a year's experience in Gaza. "Children need to have (a) sense of security."

"When I am speaking with kids today, I'm finding that they are withdrawn from normal interactions with their families. They are having nightmares, wetting their bed, and they won't let their parents out of their sight. They are truly in a state of trauma." she said.

Ironside, speaking to Xinhua at the end of the Thursday press conference, elaborated on the current health and water challenges plaguing the people of Gaza.

Right now, the situation is worrisome, Ironside said about UNICEF's concern over children and adults showing signs of scabies, lice and other communicable diseases.

People have been moving in and out of shelters and the movement has become dependent on the ceasefire, she said, adding "There are still over 270,000 people who are in public shelters."

"They have been there now for six weeks and these places are not designed to have people stay there for this long," she said while also pointing to the shortage of water.

During the past two weeks, the Palestinian authorities have been able to re-establish about 50 percent of the water network outside of Gaza City and 65 percent within the area. Nonetheless, humanitarian officials are still concerned about water availability.

There are high risks of diarrhea and an intestinal impact because of water quality, she said. "So we are monitoring together with the water authorities the quality of the drinking water."

As of now, "there (have) been incidence of scabies and lice in these very crowded shelters due to the lack of water for washing and hygiene products, so we have been distributing hygiene products and soap to make sure that there is enough," she said.

But the risks are very real, she said.

"UNICEF is closely monitoring the risks around communicable diseases in highly crowded shelters (along) with the national Ministry of Health, World Health Organization (WHO) and the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNWRA)," she said.

The agencies on the ground need to be very diligent about monitoring and looking for status changes, she said.

"Thankfully, at the moment there has not been any major outbreaks of anything. Lets keep it that way," she noted.