Nearly one in five children across the Middle East and North Africa is in need of immediate humanitarian assistance, according to UNICEF. Over the past 70 years, countries across the region have made major strides in protecting children’s rights and wellbeing.
But, as UNICEF marks its 70th anniversary, violent conflict, poverty and displacement have created dire conditions for children, pushing almost 29 million boys and girls to the brink, and reversing decades of steady progress.
“Looking back on 70 years of UNICEF’s work for children is a source of great pride. Every country in the region has ratified the Convention on the Rights of the Child, less children die before the age of five, and school enrolment rates have improved,” said Geert Cappelaere, UNICEF Regional Director for the Middle East and North Africa.
“But conflict risks reversing these gains for 157 million children across the region, making our mandate to protect them more crucial than ever.” After years of conflict across the Middle East and North Africa children have increasingly come under attack and suffer the brunt of war in half of the countries in the region.
An estimated 8.4 million Syrian children are in need of immediate assistance for shelter, food and water, compared to 500,000 in 2012. Nearly half a million children are living in besieged areas in Syria and have received little to no aid in almost two years.
Almost 10 million children in Yemen are affected by conflict and living in critical conditions, with nearly 400,000 at risk of severe acute malnutrition. Extreme brutality against children is rife in Iraq. According to reports, nearly 400 child rights violations were recorded since January 2016.
The ongoing military operation in Mosul has displaced nearly 74,000 people, almost half of them children. In Sudan, Libya and the State of Palestine, conflict has pushed millions of children out of their homes and schools and denied them access to basic services.
The Middle East and North Africa is home to half the world’s refugees and internally displaced people, but accounts for only five per cent of global population.
“These grim figures on our 70th anniversary should be an urgent wake up call to the world to work harder so that each and every child across the Middle East and North Africa can survive, thrive and be reach their full potential,” said Cappelaere.
“This is not a lost generation. History will judge us: we must invest more in the region’s children today.” UNICEF is responding to the immediate and long-term needs of vulnerable children across the region through clean water and sanitation, basic health services, learning opportunities and psycho-social support.
In Syria and neighbouring refugee-host countries, UNICEF has helped vaccinate over 21 million children against polio in 2016. This year, over 82,000 children in Sudan have received psycho-social support through child-friendly spaces and home visits by social workers.
Since January, 4 million children in Yemen have received nutritional services with support from UNICEF, including micronutrient supplements, nutrition screening and treatment for severe acute malnutrition.
Through the “No Lost Generation” initiative, UNICEF has helped provide formal and informal learning opportunities for Syrian refugees in Egypt, Iraq, Jordan and Lebanon.