by Stephanie Parker
UNITED NATIONS, Aug. 7 (Xinhua) -- A 72-hour humanitarian ceasefire between Israel and Hamas has given hope to 500,000 Palestinians displaced in the densely populated Gaza strip during the past month, Pernille Ironside, chief of Gaza Occupied Palestinian Territory field office of the United Nations Children' s Fund (UNICEF), told Xinhua.
Right now, "we are concerned on so many levels. The word concerned doesn't even begin to describe the situation here. We are in a humanitarian catastrophe, quite frankly," Ironside said in a recent phone interview with Xinhua from Gaza City.
Israel and Hamas-led Palestinian militants entered the 72-hour truce on Tuesday mediated by Egypt with an aim to encourage negotiations on a more enduring end to the month-old Gaza conflict.
During the Israeli military offensive, the Gaza Strip experienced more than 3,000 missile strikes and about a quarter of the population, which is roughly 500,000 people, were forced to flee their homes because it became a military zone, Ironside said.
The UN agency reported earlier this week that 400 Palestinian children were killed and more than 2,700 children were injured in the clashes between Israel and Hamas, which dominates Gaza.
Asked about what the ceasefire means to the displaced Palestinians, Ironside said, "This is something that people have been looking at with some positive optimism. (But,) at the same time given how many of the previous humanitarian pauses have been violated and undermined, it is trust that needs to be built up and regained."
Prior to this recent cessation of hostilities, the international community attempted to broker a truce between Israel and Hamas. But neither side was willing to lay down their arms and negotiate a peace agreement.
On the second day of the pause, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki- moon called on a durable ceasefire between both sides and urged member states to respond to calls for emergency humanitarian aid. Sizable assistance is needed to address housing needs, provide food and water and help the wounded and traumatized. Among the traumatized group is a class of 370,000 children who are in need of immediate social and psycho support, UNICEF reported earlier this week.
GAZA IN DIRE NEED OF SAFE DRINKING WATER
In the interview with Xinhua, the senior UNICEF official also placed an urgent appeal for safe drinking water and adequate sanitation facilities for the displaced and vulnerable population.
As of now, children are in dire need of safe drinking water, Ironside said.
"There is insufficient drinking water available at the moment and certainly insufficient water for washing and hygiene," she said.
"Kids and adults are showing signs of scabies, lice and other communicable diseases," she said, adding that all people there need to have access to drinking water and appropriate hygiene to stave off communicable diseases.
These communicable diseases will increase the cases of diarrhea in children, especially those under the age of five, she said while also pointing to the complications of diarrhea like dehydration.
"The majority of the population especially outside of the shelters have almost no access to potable water or to drinking water," she said.
In addition to this, Gaza is in great need of electricity.
The UNICEF official said that the water vendors have not been able to move around and that has caused limited availability of water which has impacted the re-establishment of electricity. Electricity is essential for pumping water, she said.
Therefore, these past 30 days have had a dark impact on a place that is already extraordinarily depressed and underdeveloped, Ironside said.
GAZA'S D-DEVELOPMENT STATUS
UN indicators state that Gaza has been in a state of poor development since the 1990s and the citizens of Gaza are worst off now then they were 20 years ago, she said.
"There has been no economy," she said. Gaza has an overall unemployment rate of 41.5 percent among its population, and has a 57 percent unemployment rate for adults under 29 years of age. Both statistics include people that only work one hour a week, Ironside said.
The struggles in Gaza before the latest round of shelling, placed it in D development. But, now "Gaza has been set back by at least another few decades because there are entire neighborhoods with nothing left but debris and rubble. It's a devastating landscape," she said.
Gaza now has to deal with huge infrastructural damages. These physical injuries extend well beyond military targets and go into homes and lives of ordinary people, she said. "Now (the people of Gaza) have to completely rebuild."