UNICEF appeals for $42 million to help Iraqi children

Queen Rania of Jordan

23 May 2007 – The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) today called for $42 million to help Iraqi children, who the agency said have reached a critical point due to violence and displacement.

The appeal was launched in Amman, Jordan’s capital, by Queen Rania Al Abdullah, UNICEF’s first-ever Eminent Advocate for Children.

“For many Iraqi children, the long-term future may be unclear, but their present needs – for education, for health care, for clean water and proper sanitation – are clear and must be met – now,” she said.

Since the start of the war, close to 15 per cent of Iraq’s population or around 4 million people – half of whom are children – have fled their homes. Over the next six months, UNICEF seeks to provide critical relief for 1.6 million children who have been displaced and are living inside Iraq and in the neighbouring countries of Jordan and Syria, which are shouldering the burden of hosting Iraqi refugees who have left their homeland.

“We believe that Iraq is at a watershed,” Daniel Toole, the agency’s Acting Deputy Executive Director and Director of Emergency Programmes, told reporters in New York. “Iraqi children need help now.”

UNICEF has put $10 million of its own reserves towards jumpstarting relief activities, working closely with other UN agencies to organize immunization campaigns and provide clean water.

Currently, less than one third of all Iraqi children have access to safe water, due to the breakdown of the country’s water and sanitation systems. As the summer approaches, fears of high levels of diarrhoea and dehydration are increasing. Last week, the first cases of cholera – all of them affecting children – were reported, raising concerns over a possible serious outbreak.

Another key area to be targeted by the funds is education. Statistics from two years ago showed that 75 per cent of children regularly attended school, while enrolment has dropped to 30 per cent, which Mr. Toole, who recently returned from a visit to the northern Iraqi city of Erbil, blamed on the insecurity.

Parents are afraid to send their children to school given the high levels of violence in Iraq, and the educational system is “missing teachers.”

“If you travel around Iraq, you see schools that are empty and schools that are terribly overcrowded and so many, many children are no longer attending school,” he observed.

Further exacerbating conditions is the exodus of professionals, including doctors and teachers, leaving Iraq. “Children will bear the brunt of the brain drain,” Mr. Toole said, since they are left with fewer adults to train them and ensure their health.

He praised the efforts of the Governments of Jordan and Syria for welcoming the Iraqi refugees as guests, and also for pledging to assist Iraqi children in their countries by providing education and health services.

At the same time, he stressed that the violence must cease immediately, while acknowledging that UNICEF is unable to bring about an end to the hostilities.

“We cannot solve the problem of school attendance if parents are afraid to send their children to school,” he stated.

Queen Rania also said what Iraqi children need, above all, is a resolution to the crisis. “That has to be our ultimate hope.”

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