Big Issues

UNICEF’s Tess Ingram: “The Situation For Children In Gaza Is Truly Mind-Bending”

a child sitting in the rubble after Israeli bombardment in Deir Al-Balah, in the central Gaza Strip

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The humanitarian crisis in Gaza has well and truly reached catastrophic levels.

Israel’s bombing — in a stated attempt to destroy Hamas, the group responsible for killing 1200 Israelis on October 7 — of the small, densely-populated portion of Palestine has killed over 27,000 people, most of them women and children. According to UNICEF, an estimated 17,000 children are now “unaccompanied or separated”. Hamas is still holding 136 Israeli hostages.

The International Court of Justice has decided that South Africa’s genocide case against Israel had some merit. It instructed the country to do everything it could to prevent genocide in Gaza — and to ensure the delivery of more humanitarian aid. The court stopped short of insisting on a ceasefire, negotiations for which have so far been unsuccessful.

And the suffering continues. In our ongoing effort to better understand the human cost of this conflict, we spoke to Tess Ingram, Communication Specialist for UNICEF, who was working in Gaza last month.

How would you describe the current state of the crisis in Gaza?

The situation for children in Gaza is truly mind-bending. There are hundreds of thousands of children displaced, out of school, eating barely anything and battling through coughs, cold, stomach bugs and a raft of other health issues. Many fled their homes months ago when the weather was warmer so they don’t even have the winter clothes they need. Kids told me about how scared they are and how they have trouble sleeping. About the death of their mum, or their siblings, or the family pet. And about how much they want this war to end so they can go home to their toys, their friends and something close to a normal life.

A recent deal between Israel and Hamas allowed more humanitarian aid into Gaza — medicine for Hamas’s hostages and basic supplies for the area — how do you view these negotiations in terms of how aid gets in?

It is so important that aid continues to get into the Gaza Strip, in large volumes. The humanitarian crisis on the ground is escalating by the day and, due to the slow flow of aid into Gaza because of screenings and restrictions, humanitarian agencies like UNICEF are swimming against the tide. We just can’t keep up with the growing need. What is needed right now is an increase in the quantity and consistency of aid allowed in. As well as more aid, we need more types of aid, more access points and better conditions on the ground for us to distribute aid around Gaza. Even wars have rules and UN aid distribution must be respected. We also need commercial goods to be allowed in for sale to replenish empty markets and allow families to access what they need. Every single day children and families in Gaza face death from conflict, disease, malnutrition and the cold. They need a ceasefire now.

What is the biggest challenge in delivering aid right now? What are you most concerned about?

The delivery of aid is a matter of life or death for children in Gaza, but the conditions to provide that aid are not being met. There are many challenges — restriction of the types of aid, limited access points, and unsafe movement around Gaza. There is also a critical shortage of fuel and trucks to transport goods around the strip, damage to major roads, and communication blackouts which make the coordination of aid distribution incredibly difficult.

What do you think of Australia’s recently increased commitment of humanitarian aid to Gaza?

UNICEF relies completely on donations, from individuals, governments and corporate partners. Every dollar of that support makes a difference, and UNICEF will keep working for the children and families caught in this nightmare, and keep advocating for a ceasefire and unconditional, safe release of the remaining abducted children. 

From your perspective, how do you think the International Court of Justice’s case will impact the prospect of more aid getting to Gaza?

[Editor’s Note: These questions were asked before the ICJ’s ruling.]

The hearing of the ICJ is part of an independent judicial process. UNICEF will continue to remain focused on providing aid to those in need. But first and foremost, what we need is a ceasefire. That urgent demand cannot be overstated.

What is the best way for people to help?

Australians wanting to help can donate at Funds raised will go to getting clean water, winter clothing, malnutrition treatments, and medical supplies to children and families who desperately need it. After spending the last week in Gaza, I can tell you that the needs are enormous and every little bit of support we can provide to families in the Gaza Strip makes a difference.