|© UNICEF/2013/ Diffidenti|
NEW YORK, 23 September 2013 - The plight of civilians trapped by the conflict inside Syria is becoming increasingly desperate, and more efforts are needed now to enable the humanitarian access that will safeguard thousands of children’s lives, said UNICEF.
As world leaders gather for the 68th UN General Assembly in New York, UNICEF warned that the spiraling conflict means children continue to be cut off from urgently-needed assistance including vaccinations, safe drinking water, shelter, education and psychological support.
“As fighting continues, some areas have been under siege for months on end, leaving families struggling to survive,” said UNICEF Executive Director Anthony Lake. “Syria’s children have suffered too much, for too long, and will continue to bear the consequences of this crisis for many years to come.”
“We must be able to reach these children, urgently and without restrictions - and the various parties to the conflict can make that happen by immediately allowing humanitarian workers to reach them with life-saving assistance,” he said.
One practical example of how unimpeded access could save lives, said Lake, is the forthcoming Child Health Day vaccination campaign that aims to protect children inside Syria from vaccine preventable diseases, with a special focus on the 700,000 children that have not been reached through the most recent immunization campaigns.
Critical services such as health and education also require special protection, noted UNICEF. Schools and health facilities should not be targeted in fighting, but rather recognised as 'zones of peace' where women and children can seek assistance and support, said Lake.
For most of this year, UNICEF and its partners have faced severe difficulties in reaching hundreds of thousands of children in Aleppo, Rural Damascus, major parts of Homs, Deir ez Zour and Rural Dara'a. Medical supplies, including vaccines, have been held up at checkpoints, and vital work on repairing water pipelines has been delayed.
Unimpeded humanitarian access requires clear commitments on behalf of the Syrian government and opposition groups. There are a number of practical ways this can be achieved, including humanitarian pauses in the conflict to permit humanitarian workers safe access and freedom of movement to deliver services and supplies to those in need.
“Humanitarian workers need to be able to safely deliver assistance to the most vulnerable women and children across Syria,” stressed Mr. Lake. “This includes enabling them to deliver basic health and sanitation services since even the most critical of these, such as the immunization of young children, are not reaching many affected communities.”
Despite the challenges, UNICEF was working with others to bring critical services to children wherever they were, including behind opposition lines, said Lake. “This year we and our partners have provided 10 million people inside Syria with access to safe drinking water, while over the last two years we have immunized 2 million children against measles. Right now we are delivering school supplies to enable 1 million Syrian children to resume learning in the country.”
“But the needs remain immense. To get to those we have still not reached, humanitarian workers have to be able to move freely and safely in all parts of the country and essential services must be protected."
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