After a month of hostilities and with more than 220,000 women, men and children still taking refuge in UNRWA schools in Gaza, UNRWA continues to implement new initiatives in an effort to maintain the health and cleanliness of its shelters. This week, a hygiene and water campaign was launchedin 90 shelters across all five areas of the Gaza Strip.
The campaign is specifically designed to ensure that internally displaced persons (IDPs) in UNRWA schools are aware of, and take responsibility for, helping to promote clean shelters and prevent any major health issues, including scabies, lice and water related diseases.
“We are facing an insufficient supply of potable and non-potable water and a very real risk of consumption of contaminated water; our new campaign addresses both of these issues and builds on the health and cleanliness efforts that UNRWA has prioritized from the first day our shelters were opened,” said Mr Scott Anderson, Deputy Director of UNRWA Operations in Gaza.
“Whilst we know that it is common in any humanitarian emergency for health problems to occur, these are often caused by poor hygiene and water practices; there are ways in which we can try to prevent it. There has already been some contained lice and scabies cases, and the last thing distraught Gazans need right now is a widespread outbreak of disease,” added Mr Anderson.
In partnership with UNICEF, the distribution of advocacy posters for display in bathrooms and water points in all UNRWA shelters was the first step of the behaviour change campaign. This will be closely followed by the training of thirty volunteer medical students on best practice regarding sanitation and water use in emergencies.
The volunteers will train existing water and environment focal points and UNRWA’s Job Creation Program staff at shelters. The training will include local monitoring of tap water use. This team will then select and train hygiene and water committees comprising of IDPs at each shelter. These committees will include two women, two men and four youth – two girls and two boys. The IDP committees will be tasked with advocating on health and water practices with all IDPs.
The initiative is being rolled out amongst incredible challenges, including insufficient access to potable and non-potable water, destroyed water and sanitation infrastructure, ongoing security concerns due to resumed violence and the high number of IDPs in UNRWA shelters, which at its peak was more than five times the anticipated amount.
“The ongoing conflict makes it even more difficult to access sufficient water supplies, and to monitor general hygiene within the shelters. Should the situation escalate again, we will be in greater danger of an outbreak of disease. Everything is at breaking point, but we are continuing our efforts to meet the needs of the people in our care,” said Mr Anderson.
In addition to this new initiative, UNRWA continues to distribute family and baby hygiene kits and other cleaning materials to each of its 90 open shelters.