MIDDLE EAST AND NORTH AFRICA
A girl watches a peaceful demonstration in Tripoli, Libya. The region, long marked by social inequity and crisis, is undergoing an unprecedented ‘Arab Spring’ of socio-political change, with multiple long- and short-term effects on children.
September 2012 Update: UNICEF Humanitarian Action for Children [PDF]
Children and Women in Crisis
The Middle East and North Africa region has long been marked by political instability, human rights crises and protracted humanitarian emergencies. During 2011, the region witnessed a series of historical transformations – popularized as the ‘Arab Spring’ – ignited by a multitude of root causes, including wide-ranging social inequities and perceptions of inadequate governance. This was aggravated by corruption and constrained political representation, and by record levels of unemployment, soaring food and fuel prices, severe water scarcity and a volatile political and security context.
Tunisia provided the flash point in December 2010–January 2011 with an unprecedented wave of socio-political change that spread to Egypt, Libya, the Syrian Arab Republic and Yemen. Egypt and Tunisia experienced refugee crises along their borders following the forced displacement of 930,000 civilians in Libya.1 Children throughout the region were exposed either directly or indirectly to scenes of violence.
In the wake of similarly widespread popular contestation, political deadlock and escalating violence in Yemen have contributed to a further deterioration in humanitarian conditions in-country. The disintegration of basic services, regional drought, alarming rates of undernutrition and a lack of state authority to address these challenges are compounding issues for an already weakened population. Yemen remains at risk of slipping into a full-blown subregional humanitarian crisis should the current political crisis remain unresolved.
While not directly impacted by the ‘Arab Spring’, the situation for children in the Sudan remains of extreme concern. In July 2011, South Sudan seceded from the Sudan, relatively peacefully. In the final months of 2011, however, protracted crises in the Sudan continued to severely impact children’s rights to life and access to essential services, while significantly hampering humanitarian access and UNICEF outreach for children in need in Abyei, the Blue Nile, Darfur and South Kordofan. More specifically, the ‘border states’ of Abyei, the Blue Nile and South Kordofan have been characterized by forced displacement of civilians and severe interruptions to the delivery of humanitarian aid. Meanwhile, severe malnutrition grew increasingly worse in the Sudan: acute malnutrition levels, at 16.4 percent, are above the internationally accepted emergency threshold of 15 per cent, with 5.3 per cent of these children suffering from severe acute malnutrition.2
Throughout the region, large numbers of internally displaced people (estimated in the millions) continue to be highly vulnerable and in need of urgent humanitarian assistance, due to protracted conflicts, combined with natural hazards, climate change, rapidly expanding urbanization, and fast water-table resource depletion. Drought and famine continue to threaten lives across the Horn of Africa, causing high levels of undernutrition and food insecurity in Djibouti.
The impact of the ongoing global financial crisis combined with protracted emergencies in Djibouti, the Occupied Palestinian Territory, the Sudan and Yemen, and the extremely fragile situations of Lebanon, Libya and the Syrian Arab Republic require sustained and consistent humanitarian funding in order to meet the critical needs of women and children in 2012.
Meeting Urgent Needs in 2012
UNICEF plans to strengthen disaster risk reduction and crisis preparedness in the Middle East and North Africa by helping country offices with technical assistance and resource mobilization. The regional office will continue to provide surge capacity, leadership and oversight to support UNICEF efforts in countries in crisis, in line with inter-agency cluster coordination mechanisms to meet UNICEF's commitments as cluster lead in the areas of WASH, nutrition, education and child protection.
- Strengthening national and regional disaster preparedness systems/infrastructure will be supported with the creation of a regional training hub/centre on emergency preparedness and response. The centre will aim to provide capacity building specifically for government partners at senior levels and other humanitarian stakeholders with emergency preparedness and response training programmes and risk reduction policy development.
- The regional office will continue its efforts towards strengthening and expanding disaster reduction initiatives in support of national ministry partners throughout the region, with a specific focus on the education and WASH sector.
- The regional office will initiate phase 2 of the establishment of a subregional supply procurement capacity by pre-positioning life-saving supplies for some 50,000 people in Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, the Occupied Palestinian Territory and the Syrian Arab Republic.
Humanitarian Funding at Work: Highlights from 2011
UNICEF had received US$700,394 (28 per cent) of the requested US$2,540,000 as of end October 2011 for its humanitarian work in the region. An additional US$10,351,965 was received in response to the Libya flash appeal requesting US$20,540,000.
The regional office dispatched emergency and technical staff to Djibouti, Egypt, Libya, the Sudan and Tunisia. The protracted crisis in Libya required the most attention, with oversight and management of finances, surge capacity and programmatic support.
The regional office provided leadership to country offices, technical guidance through contingency planning, simulation exercises and strategic reflection leading up to and during the secession of South Sudan from the Sudan.
In Yemen, field mission support and strategic guidance was provided from the beginning of the Saada crisis and during the persistent political impasse.
The establishment of a subregional supply procurement capacity progressed significantly, with long-term agreements with suppliers in Jordan, Lebanon and the Syrian Arab Republic to facilitate quick emergency response within the region.
In response to the Horn of Africa nutrition crisis, emergency advisors worked alongside the Eastern and Southern Africa Regional Office and the UNICEF Djibouti team to strengthen communication and the health and nutrition response.
Funding Requirements for 2012
UNICEF requests US$1,600,000 to continue its work pre-empting risks to women and children in the region. It is important to note that UNICEF, together with the wider UN system, is facing great challenges in the Middle East and North Africa with the multitude of protracted and new humanitarian crises occurring at a time of declining financial resources. Therefore, full funding is critical.
More information on humanitarian action planned in 2012 can be found at www.unicef.org/hac2012.
1 ‘Update on UNHCR’s Operations in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) – 2011’, Executive Committee of the High Commissioner's Programme: Sixty-second session, UNHCR, Geneva, 3–7 October 2011, p. 1.
2 ‘Sudan Household Survey, 2010’, analysed using World Health Organization Growth Standards.