Serious upsurge of post-conflict trauma in Gaza, says UN

22 January 2013

21 January 2013
East Jerusalem

The incidence of psychological trauma and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in the Gaza Strip has risen by more than 100 per cent following the most recent conflict there, according to new figures from the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA).

The largest humanitarian organisation on the ground in Gaza, UNRWA said that the number of people in Gaza it was treating for psychological trauma or PTSD had doubled from November to December. Of those treated, 42 per cent are under the age of nine. These latest statistics, gathered from UNRWA health facilities in the coastal strip, support the findings of the most recent survey of Gazan children from the UN children’s agency Unicef, which found sharp rises in conflict-related psychological disturbances.

“These figures represent a significant rise in mental health problems,” said Akihiro Seita, Director of UNRWA’s health programme. “From my experience, I would say this is evidence of a psychological trauma and PTSD epidemic.

“Remember that these stats do not reflect our anecdotal evidence, which suggests there are a huge number of unreported cases”, Seita added.

“On my first visit to Gaza after the war, I was overwhelmed by how much mothers and children suffered from the sheer scale and magnitude of the bombardments. All the mothers I met in UNRWA’s health centres said their children behaved differently during and after the war. Some don’t sleep well, some don’t eat well, and some don’t speak well.

It’s heart-breaking.”

Photo credit: Samar Abu El Ouf

Following the fighting last month, Unicef released the findings of a rapid psychosocial assessment of children in Gaza: it found a 91 per cent of increase in sleep disturbances among children, while 84 per cent of respondents were reported as looking “stunned or dazed”, and 85 per cent reported “appetite changes”.

In its latest report to the World Health Assembly published in May last year, UNRWA presented evidence of an increase in “stress-related disorders and mental health problems” among the Palestine refugees it serves. In response to these growing health needs, UNRWA has rolled out a new model of health care called Family Health, by which Palestine refugee families receive health care as a whole unit.

“UNRWA is stepping up its psychosocial counselling at schools and through home visits in response to this sharp rise in PTSD cases”, said UNRWA spokesman Chris Gunness, while appealing for more funds to meet the growing demand for UNRWA’s mental health work.

“Our community mental health programme in Gaza costs some USD 3 million annually,” Gunness said.

“To meet the growing demand for mental health care, we desperately need more funds from our traditional donors and individuals.”

Support UNRWA‘s emergency work in Gaza

Note to editors:

In the coming weeks, UNRWA will be publishing a series of media resources relating to the PTSD epidemic in Gaza and the work of UNRWA’s Health Department, including video footage and photo essays.

Background information:

UNRWA is a United Nations agency established by the General Assembly in 1949 and is mandated to provide assistance and protection to a population of some 5 million registered Palestine refugees. Its mission is to help Palestine refugees in Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, West Bank and the Gaza Strip to achieve their full potential in human development, pending a just solution to their plight. UNRWA’s services encompass education, health care, relief and social services, camp infrastructure and improvement, and microfinance.

Financial support to UNRWA has not kept pace with an increased demand for services caused by growing numbers of registered refugees, expanding need, and deepening poverty. As a result, the Agency‘s General Fund (GF), supporting UNRWA’s core activities and 97 per cent reliant on voluntary contributions, has begun each year with a large projected deficit. Currently the deficit stands at USD 68 million.

For more information, please contact:

Chris Gunness
UNRWA Spokesperson
Mobile: +972 (0)54 240 2659
Office: +972 (0)2 589 0267
[email protected]

Sami Mshasha
UNRWA Arabic Spokesperson
Mobile: +972 (0)54 216 8295
Office: +972 (0)2 589 0724
[email protected]