The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) has reported an increase in the levels of mental disorders amongst the population of the Gaza Strip, especially among children, many of whom were already in need of mental health services and psychosocial support.
Over three violent days in early August, until a ceasefire was reached on 7 August, Israeli Defence Forces launched some 147 air strikes against targets in Gaza while Palestinian militants unleashed around 1,100 rockets and mortars into Israel.
Briefing the Security Council on 8 August, Tor Wennesland, Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, reported that 46 Palestinians had been killed and 360 injured, and 70 Israelis injured.
Destruction following the Israeli airstrike during the escalation in August 2022
A heavy toll on children
17 Palestinian children were among those killed in Gaza in August, and the conflict is taking a heavy toll on all young people living in the Strip, said Adele Khodr, UNICEF Regional Director for the Middle East and North Africa, in a statement welcoming the ceasefire.
“For many children, this was their fifth conflict in the past 15 years. Many are already living with the long-term psychological effects of constant exposure to violence” noted Ms. Khodr.
After visiting a family in Gaza whose house was severely damaged in the conflict, Lynne Hastings, UN Humanitarian Coordinator for the Occupied Palestinian Territory, said that “the humanitarian situation in Gaza is already deteriorating, and this latest escalation will only make matters worse. We stand ready to work with all parties to ensure that humanitarian needs are met.”
Lynn Matar, 11 years, recounts difficult moments she experienced after an Israeli air raid on one of the houses adjacent to her grandfather’s house in the Rafah Palestinian refugee camp.
Living ‘in a state of frustration and psychological deterioration’
Speaking at a workshop organized by the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), Dr. Yousef Shahin, head of UNRWA’s Disease Prevention and Control Program, said that the Agency’s mental health and psychological support program, to treat more than 87,000 cases, is one of the most important such programs in the Gaza Strip.
“We are now working on the process of surveying cases, and if it is found that psychological support is needed, a file is opened, followed up, and treatment is provided. Common symptoms include depression and epilepsy, and there are other cases related to chronic physical diseases, which are of psychological origin”.
Children in the Gaza Strip. 08 August 2022.
65 per cent live below the poverty line
For his part, Dr. Sami Owaida of the Gaza Mental Health Program attributed the psychological challenges faced by the residents of the Gaza Strip to the Israeli occupation and blockade of the Strip, which has lasted for over 15 years. “More than 65 percent of the population of Gaza live below the poverty line, and more than 60 percent are unemployed.”
Dr. Owaida’s comments were echoed by Dr. Ghada Al Jadba, Head of the UNRWA Health Program, who said that people in Gaza live “in a state of frustration and psychological deterioration as a result of the deteriorating economic, social and political conditions”.
“The conflict in May 2021 [in which much of Gaza City was destroyed, and hundreds were killed or injured], led to a psychological shock, on top of dealing with electricity and water cuts, high rates of poverty, and unemployment – all factors that led to the deterioration of the already worsening health and psychological situation of the residents of Gaza”.
More than two million people live in the Gaza Strip: there is only one mental health hospital, with a capacity of fifty beds, to serve the five governorates in the Strip.