Palestinian children weep at the funeral for their loved ones in Rafah, southern Gaza Strip (File photo/UNICEF).
The lasting impact of the latest round of Israeli escalation builds on already existing trauma from previous conflicts and a grueling ongoing blockade on the Gaza Strip, warned the UN Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA).
UNRWA said in a feature published on the World Mental Health Day, that sixty-six children were killed in the latest conflict in Gaza and some 113,000 Palestinians were displaced during the 11 devastating days.
The more than two million Palestinians who call Gaza home have lived through four wars in the last thirteen years and this latest round of hostilities added another layer of psychological distress on an already traumatized population.
An alarming number of the population of Gaza, almost 600,000 of whom are children and youth, display symptoms of severe distress and are at risk of developing mental health conditions and display symptoms of severe distress.
UNRWA has implemented mental health and psychosocial support (MHPSS) programming to mitigate the mental health costs arising from the increased need for mental health support and being born by residents of Gaza. This includes individual and group counselling sessions, hotlines for mental health support, afterschool sessions and the Keeping Kids Cool (KKC) summer camp activities that ran in Gaza throughout July 2021, targeting 150,000 children.
On this World Mental Health Day, UNRWA underscored the importance of a life lived in dignity and free of the violence of war, remembering that the right to health, education and a dignified life are clearly enshrined in international human rights law.
UNRWA also lauded the valiant efforts of mental health care professionals like those who are on the frontlines of service provision in Gaza. Many of them were involved in this year’s Gaza Keeping Kids Cook summer activities, providing vital psychosocial support to tens of thousands of traumatized children.
People in Gaza have already been living on the edge and many families struggle to put food on the table. Their situation has deteriorated even further over the past year due to COVID-19 pandemic restrictions.
According to data by the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC), Gaza is one of the world's most densely populated areas, with more than 5,000 inhabitants per square kilometer. The Gaza Strip is smaller than the city of Oslo but is home to three times as many people.
Gaza is described by many Palestinians and humanitarian actors as the world’s largest open-air prison, where nearly 2 million Palestinians live behind a blockade and are refused access to the other occupied Palestinian areas and the rest of the world.
NRC said 7 out of 10 Palestinians in Gaza are registered as refugees, and many of these come from families who were forced to leave their villages in 1948. Many have also been forced to leave their homes due to war, violence, and economic hardship.