Nearly one in five children across the Middle East and North Africa are in need of immediate humanitarian assistance, according to the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) and over 90 per cent of these children are said to be living in countries affected by conflict.
The depressing facts about the region were highlighted by UNICEF in a press release earlier this week in which it said that almost 12 million Syrian children were in need of humanitarian assistance – up from half a million in 2012.
Speaking about the humanitarian crises in the region, the international agency, which provides emergency food and healthcare to children in countries devastated by war, said that children have been hit hardest by ongoing years of violence, displacement and lack of basic services. It mentioned that civilian infrastructure, including hospitals, energy, water, sanitation and hygiene installations have come under attack, exposing children to the risk of death and disease.
In addition to the 12 million Syrian children needing humanitarian assistance, UNICEF said that the situation in Yemen, Gaza and Iraq are also dire: "In Yemen, the fighting has destroyed water and sanitation systems, sparking the world's worst cholera and acute watery diarrhoea outbreak with over 610,000 suspected cases to date. More than half of Yemen's health facilities are out of service and water systems have been destroyed, cutting off almost 15 million people from safe water and access to basic healthcare."
Regarding Gaza, the agency said that "an ongoing electricity crisis has reduced access to water by 30 per cent. Cases of diarrhoea among young children have doubled in just three months". In Iraq, conditions are equally depressing. "Across Iraq," said UNICEF, "more than five million children are in need of assistance as heavy fighting intensified including in Mosul and recently in Tel-Afar. They need water, food and shelter and education."
UNICEF's Regional Director Geert Cappelaere warned of a lost generation:
Conflict continues to rob millions of girls and boys of their childhood. Decades of progress are at a risk of being reversed across the Middle East and North Africa.
"Children in the Middle East and North Africa region have undergone unprecedented levels of violence and witnessed horrors that no one should witness. If violence and wars continue, the consequences – not only for the region – but for the world as a whole will be dire. World leaders must do much more to put an end to violence for the sake of boys and girls and their future," added Cappelaere.