The June 21 The World article “Mental health crisis overtaking Gaza” aptly highlighted the little-discussed mental-health crisis faced by Palestinians in the Gaza Strip as ongoing conflict and an 11-year blockade take an increasingly dire toll on the population.
The United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees has worked to respond to this epidemic by increasing psychosocial services for Palestinian refugees there through the UNRWA Community Mental Health Program. These initiatives help refugees develop coping mechanisms for stress and trauma while working to build self-confidence. While visiting Gaza, I’ve had the privilege to participate in several play-therapy sessions with students at UNRWA schools, witnessing firsthand the invaluable impact these activities have on children who have faced so much trauma. But now these critical programs are in peril due to the U.S. government’s decision to slash funding to UNRWA by $300 million. The U.S. decision to cut funding jeopardizes all of UNRWA’s operations, endangering millions and contributing to greater unrest. In just a few weeks, the agency’s emergency services funds are set to expire. The administration must act now, or the mental-health crisis in Gaza will only intensify, spurring further conflict and engendering yet another generation of suffering Palestinian refugees.
Abby Smardon, Washington
The writer is executive director of UNRWA USA.