Palestine is an occupied state in West Asia with scattered claims over territories now under Israeli occupation, including Gaza, which borders the Mediterranean Sea and West Bank bordering Jordan. The territories of the West Bank and Gaza alone are home to 5 million Palestinian people. Decades of conflict with Israel over territorial disputes have left the country ravaged. Poverty, malnutrition and the worsening humanitarian situation in the region have deeply affected the living conditions in Palestine. This has caused increased child poverty in Palestine.
A UNICEF report in 2018 predicted that around 1 million children in Palestine were in dire need of humanitarian assistance. Additionally, it stated that one-third of the population was living below the poverty line with unemployment rates in Gaza peaking at 53.7%. The current COVID-19 pandemic has made the situation worse for Palestinian children. The Ministry of Social Development of Palestine suggested in April 2020 that nearly 53,000 families in Palestine were at risk of poverty in the very first few months of the pandemic. Here are some facts about COVID-19 and how it has impacted child poverty in Palestine.
5 Facts About Child Poverty in Palestine During the COVID-19 Pandemic
- Crisis in Gaza: The territory of Gaza, which is one of the most populated areas in the world, has been under a blockade that Israel imposed since 2003. This has further severed access to humanitarian assistance in the region. In September 2020, the Special Rapporteur on the situation of Human Rights in the Palestinian Territory commented that Gaza was on a brink of being unliveable. The prolonged blockade also led to a weak health care system in Gaza with hospitals lacking funding, medications, equipment and supplies. With closely packed settlements devoid of any prospect of physical distancing, frail health care systems and lack of basic humanitarian access, the COVID-19 virus has been ravaging the area and is massively affecting Palestine’s children. As of April 2020, more than 17% of the population with COVID-19 in Gaza and the West Bank were children.
- Education: According to a UNICEF report, as of 2018, nearly 25% of boys and 7% of girls in Palestine had to drop out of school by the age of 15. With an inflating economy, numerous job losses and an increasing number of parents unable to afford expenses related to education and transportation, these numbers may be higher by the end of 2020. The closing down of schools and transition to remote learning has had a deep impact on the education of children in Palestine. Data by the World Health Organization (WHO) suggested that around 1.43 million children in Palestine had to learn remotely, while 360,000 children lacked access to the internet.
- The Detainment of Children: Israel has detained a large number of Palestinian children. According to the U.N. Human Rights Office in the occupied Palestinian territory, 194 children were facing detention as of March 2020. Children in detention not only face a higher risk of contracting COVID-19, but they also experience torture and violence. A large number of children have also received convictions without committing any offense. The U.N. has called for the immediate release of Palestinian children in Israel, expressing valid concerns over the status and condition of detained children at a time when Israel has put a hold on legal proceedings and has suspended visits to prisons. With no foreseeable help, several Palestinian children are still in detention centers.
- Electricity and Water: Living conditions have degraded further due to the recent decision of the Government of Israel to block the fuel necessary for the operation of the only power plant in Gaza. Electricity supply, water treatment and sewage facilities in Gaza were heavily dependent on the power plant in Gaza. However, the lack of fuel has severely impacted health facilities, electricity supply and access to clean water for children in Gaza. Families in Gaza are struggling to thrive on reminiscent fuel resources, and are able to access electricity for only three hours in a day. This has also had a major impact on hospitals and health care systems as a lack of electricity is challenging their effectiveness. The region may soon run out of clean water, leaving children devoid of water to drink or wash hands with.
- Solutions: Amidst this double crisis lingering upon the children of Palestine, agencies of the United Nations including UNICEF, the United Nations Relief Works Agency and the World Health Organization (WHO) have been working intensively to provide relief to children and eradicate child poverty in Palestine. UNICEF and the Government of Palestine have issued recommendation-based solutions in order to ensure the rights of children during the pandemic while the UNRWA continues to provide aid to displaced Palestinian children. WHO has also come up with a response strategy through coordination of the various U.N. agencies and NGOs in order to combat violence and poverty among children, food insecurity, fragile health care systems and more. However, these organizations lack the funds to operate at their full capacity.
In the face of the current pandemic, child poverty in Palestine may spike at a rapid rate, which could result in a setback for a whole generation. Children in Palestine need the immediate and urgent attention of the world community so that another generation does not have to live with poverty, malnutrition and underdevelopment with immensely poor living conditions.
– Prathit Singh