As the crisis in Gaza and Israel moves into its third week, the humanitarian situation for children is becoming increasingly dire. UNICEF is calling for a ceasefire, the release of all hostages and safe, sustained access to urgently needed supplies and assistance.
In all wars, it is children who suffer the most. Since the deadly attack on Israel on Oct. 7, 2023 and the unrelenting bombardment of the Gaza Strip that followed, children have been killed, abducted, maimed and exposed to deeply distressing events.
A reported 2,360 children have been killed and 5,634 injured in attacks in Gaza — more than 400 children killed or injured daily. More than 30 children in Israel reportedly have lost their lives, and dozens more remain in captivity in Gaza.
Children in Gaza face a deepening catastrophe
Children and families in Gaza have been cut off from food, water, medicine and other essentials, including access to hospitals. More than one million people — half the population — have fled their homes ahead of an anticipated large-scale ground assault, but with borders closed and movement limited, there is nowhere safe for them to go.
This 18-day period is the deadliest escalation of hostilities in Gaza and Israel since 2006.
“UNICEF urgently appeals to all parties to agree to a ceasefire, allow humanitarian access and release all hostages," said Adele Khodr, UNICEF Regional Director for the Middle East and North Africa. "Even wars have rules. Civilians must be protected — children particularly — and all efforts must be made to spare them in all circumstances.”
Even wars have rules. Civilians must be protected — children particularly — and all efforts must be made to spare them in all circumstances. — Adele Khodr, UNICEF Regional Director for the Middle East and North Africa
In an interview with CNN's Kaitlan Collins on Oct. 23 about the spiraling humanitarian crisis in Gaza, UNICEF Executive Director Catherine Russell put it plainly: "It's such a horrible, terrible situation for the people who live there. It's just all in all a catastrophic situation and very, very worrying for us."
Fuel reserves are expected to run out in the next few days, jeopardizing medical care and the ability of humanitarian workers to reach those in need. Hospitals that are still open have been relying on generators to keep vital services operating. "The incubators that are keeping babies alive right now depend on fuel," said Russell. "At some point, it will run out, and I think at that stage, we can just imagine what will happen to those children. It's just a terrible, terrible situation for them."
Sustained humanitarian access is essential to meet the urgent needs of children trapped in Gaza
The first 20 aid trucks reached Gaza via the Rafah border crossing from Egypt on Oct. 21, carrying emergency supplies from U.N. agencies including UNICEF, but the amount of supplies allowed in to date is only a small fraction of what is needed. U.N. officials say at least 100 trucks a day would be required to cover urgent needs in Gaza.
UNICEF has pre-positioned lifesaving supplies in Egypt to help up to 250,000 people. Trucks loaded with supplies remain lined up at the border, waiting for permission to enter Gaza.
It is the international community's responsibility to protect children from harm
"There are humanitarian rules that apply in war," said Russell. "Essentially, the idea is that civilians shouldn't suffer, that we should try to do our best to protect them, and that means making sure that they have food and water, that they have access to health care. I think that is an obligation for all of us, regardless of the fact that we're in a war."
Children don't start wars and they are powerless to stop them, but they suffer so much in these conflicts. — UNICEF Executive Director Catherine Russell
"There are wars all over the place," she continued. "We have to make sure that civilians — and, from the perspective of UNICEF, especially children — are protected because children don't start wars and they are powerless to stop them, but they suffer so much in these conflicts. I think all of us, as an international community, have to come together and figure out a way to make sure that they are harmed as little as possible in these situations."
UNICEF's response will continue to focus on responding to the needs of children currently facing an urgent and pressing need for protection and humanitarian assistance. Your contribution can make a difference. Please donate.