UNICEF Humanitarian Action for Children Appeal 2019
by Manuel Fontaine, Director of Emergency Programmes
4:03pm 21st Jan, 2019
Millions of children living in countries affected by conflict and disaster lack access to vital child protection services, putting their safety, well-being and futures at risk, UNICEF warned as it appealed for $3.9 billion to support its work for children in humanitarian crises.
UNICEF’s Humanitarian Action for Children sets out the agency’s 2019 appeal and its efforts to provide 41 million children with access to safe water, nutrition, education, health and protection in 59 countries across the globe.
“Today millions of children living through conflict or disaster are suffering horrific levels of violence, distress and trauma,” said UNICEF Executive Director Henrietta Fore.
“The impact of our child protection work cannot be overstated. When children do not have safe places to play, when they cannot be reunited with their families, when they do not receive psychosocial support, they will not heal from the unseen scars of war.”
UNICEF estimates that more than 34 million children living through conflict and disaster lack access to protection or child protection services, including 6.6 million children in Yemen, 5.5 million children in Syria and 4 million children in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).
Child protection services include all efforts to prevent and respond to abuse, neglect, exploitation, trauma and violence. UNICEF also works to ensure that the protection of children is central to all other areas of the organisation’s humanitarian programmes, including water, sanitation and hygiene, education and other areas of work by identifying, mitigating and responding to potential dangers to children’s safety and wellbeing.
However, funding constraints, as well as other challenges including warring parties’ growing disregard for international humanitarian law and the denial of humanitarian access, mean that aid agencies’ capacity to protect children is severely limited.
In the DRC, for example, UNICEF received just a third of the funding required for child protection programmes in 2018, while around one-fifth of child protection funding for Syrian children remained unmet.
“Providing these children with the support they need is critical, but without significant and sustained international action, many will continue to fall through the cracks,” said Manuel Fontaine, UNICEF Director of Emergency Programmes. “The international community should commit to supporting the protection of children in emergencies.”
“There’s never been as much conflict in the world in the past 30 years as this year, so it is obviously a particular threat,” he said.
Amid countless reports of deadly attacks on civilians and places of shelter – both of which are prohibited under international law – Mr. Fontaine insisted that the long-held notion that children should be protected above all others is also being undermined.
He said it was “being accepted as a new normal of attacks on schools and hospitals and detention of children,” adding that increasingly, “children are being seen not only as victims, when they’ve been actually recruited by an armed group or used by a particular armed group, but also as a perpetrator and detained once they’ve been released by an armed group.”
A total of 59 countries are to benefit from UNICEF’s Humanitarian Action for Children 2019 appeal, as the agency pursues its goal of providing 41 million children with safe water, food, education, health and protection.
“Nearly eight years after the conflict broke out, we still have 2.5 million Syrian children living as refugees in Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey where demand for basic services such as health and education outstrip the capacity of institutions and infrastructure to actually respond,” Mr. Fontaine explained, noting that aid was needed for Syrian refugees and host communities.
Asked if he expected a significant number of Syrian families to return to the country, the UNICEF official replied that such a development was likely premature.
“There might be cases of some families, some children who decide they want to go back and we accompany them,” he said. “I think it’s a bit early right now to see how that’s going to happen in practice.”
Needs in Yemen represent UNICEF’s second largest individual appeal, as a fragile and as-yet unimplemented ceasefire deal between Houthi militants and the internationally recognised government over the Red Sea port of Hudaydah continues to cause serious concern among humanitarians.
Nearly four years since conflict escalated, more than 22 million people need humanitarian assistance, including two million Yemeni children who will require food assistance this year. “Projections from 2019 are that nearly 400,000 children will suffer from life-threatening severe acute malnutrition in Yemen during the course of the year,” Mr. Fontaine warned.
Other emergency situations include the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), a vast country facing a significant escalation of violence and armed conflict linked to terrible rights abuses. An ongoing outbreak of deadly Ebola virus in the east of the country has made matters worse.
“Violations against children include forced recruitment by armed groups and rampant sexual abuse,” the UNICEF official explained. “The insecurity has also seriously hindered the response to the Ebola outbreak in North Kivu and Ituri and aggravated disastrous malnutrition conditions across the country.”
According to the UNICEF appeal, an estimated 1.4 million children are projected to require lifesaving treatment for severe acute malnutrition in 2019.
Faced with such unprecedented needs, UNICEF is appealing for funding that can be allocated where it is needed most urgently, not least to under-reported emergencies including the Lake Chad region, where nearly 21 million people in Cameroon, the Central African Republic, Chad, Niger and Nigeria have been affected by ongoing conflicts.
Despite the challenges, Mr. Fontaine insisted that the agency has been successful in helping vulnerable children, not least those whose mental scars caused by the “toxic stress” of conflict often take longer than physical wounds to heal.
“At the same time, I would say we’ve also made great progress,” he insisted. “It is the behaviour of parties to conflict that actually creates this kind of situation. Should they give us more access, should they give us more ways to protect children and should they themselves respect the sanctity of the protection of children, things would actually go a lot better.”
2019 marks the 30th anniversary of the landmark Convention on the Rights of the Child and the 70th anniversary of the Geneva Conventions, yet today, more countries are embroiled in internal or international conflict than at any other time in the past three decades, threatening the safety and wellbeing of millions of children.
UNICEF’s appeal comes one month after the children’s agency said that the world is failing to protect children living in conflict around the world, with catastrophic consequences. Children who are continuously exposed to violence or conflict, especially at a young age, are at risk of living in a state of toxic stress – a condition that, without the right support can lead to negative life-long consequences for their cognitive, social and emotional development.
Some children impacted by war, displacement and other traumatic events – such as sexual and gender-based violence – require specialized care to help them cope and recover.
The five largest individual appeals are for Syrian refugees and host communities in Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Iraq and Turkey; Yemen; The Democratic Republic of the Congo; Syria and South Sudan.
# In total, working alongside its partners, UNICEF aims to:
Provide almost 43 million people with access to safe water; Reach 10.1 million children with formal or non-formal basic education; Immunize 10.3 million children against measles; Treat 4.2 million children with severe acute malnutrition; Provide 4 million children and caregivers with access to psychosocial support.
In the first 10 months of 2018, as a result of UNICEF’s support:
35.3 million people had access to safe water; 5.9 million children accessed some form of education; 4.7 million children were vaccinated against measles; 2.6 million children were treated for severe acute malnutrition; 3.1 million children and caregivers received psychosocial support.
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