Gaza one year on: the lasting scars of war on children
In the silence of the rubble, a tinny tune starts up. For a moment I think it sounds like an ice-cream van but a colleague tells me it’s the desalination truck letting people know that they can buy water.
It is summer again in Gaza, a year on since 2014’s 51-day conflict began. I’m visiting Shuja’iyya, one of the most badly-affected areas, to understand more about the challenges families here still face.
Water is a huge problem
Across Gaza, 90% of water is not suitable for drinking due to damage sustained in the conflict and over-use of the one main aquifer, which allows the seawater to seep in.
This leaves the vast majority of people forced to buy bottled water to drink. With unemployment in Gaza currently at 40% (the highest in the world), it’s something most can ill-afford.
A year on, 100,000 people whose houses were destroyed during the conflict are still without homes. But it is the hidden damage that has cost families here the most.
Families left counting the psychological cost
Mariam* lost her husband during the conflict and her nine children lost their father. Her 10-year-old daughter Rahaf* was particularly close to her Dad and after his death she became very isolated.
Mariam tries her best to be strong for all her children but she struggles to see a way out of their current situation.
“I feel paralysed,” she told me, “Because I cannot control the situation. I cannot keep my children safe.”
“Now, I wake up and I go to sleep and always I am thinking, ‘How can I help my children? What can I do for them to help shape their future into something different?’”
Events no child should witness
Her worries echo those of Aya*, another mum I spoke to.
During the conflict, Aya’s 10-year-old son Wasim* witnessed the horrific death of his cousins from a falling missile. Since then he has suffered from severe and continuing emotional and psychological problems.
Aya tells me that the change in her son has been the hardest thing for her to deal with.
“Sometimes he smiles and laughs for no reason. Sometimes he has delusions that the bombardment is happening again.”
“When he sleeps, he covers his face with the sheet.”
“He is not the same boy,” she tells me, “He is not my Wasim.”
Hope for the future
It’s difficult to begin to imagine what Aya and Wasim have been through. Yet Aya remains optimistic about her son’s future.
“I hope he can regain his education – because my husband and I were deprived of ours and I know how important it is. I am patient and kind with him and I am trying my best.”
Save the Children is working with both Rahaf and Wasim, and thousands of children like them to provide individual counselling and group therapy which can help them and their families to begin to rebuild their lives.
We are also giving training to parents on how to care for their children in incredibly difficult circumstances.
Aya told me she knows Wasim’s recovery will take time but she will not give up, and neither must we. One year on, it is vital that the world does not forget Gaza’s children.