BAGHDAD / GENEVA / NEW YORK, 2 May 2003 – Iraqi children still face grave threats to their survival, health and general well-being, despite the end of the war and the rapid process of change underway in the country, UNICEF warned today.
UNICEF said that unless immediate national priority is put on protecting children from these threats, thousands of Iraqi youngsters will die unnecessarily – and hundreds of thousands more will be injured, fall prey to disease, suffer from abuse and exploitation, or fall behind in school.
“We’re calling on both Iraqis and the parties shaping Iraqi society to make the protection of children job number one,” said Carol Bellamy, Executive Director of UNICEF. “Iraq’s future depends on the health and well-being of its children. At the moment we are failing them. They should be our first priority – not only in words, but in action. And frankly I’m not seeing nearly enough action for children.”
One day after UNICEF international staff returned to work in Baghdad, UNICEF outlined a series of dangers that are still stalking Iraqi children despite the end of the war:
· Recurrent insecurity across the country, preventing humanitarian aid from consistently reaching every community where it is needed and which leads to looting that further hurts relief and recovery efforts
· Significant degradation of the national water system, resulting in ongoing and widespread health hazards that hit children hardest. Outbreaks of diarrhoea, cholera, and other killer diseases have been reported across the country
· Unknown numbers of unexploded munitions lying in and around Iraqi neighbourhoods, with daily reports of injuries and deaths among children
· Enormous stress on health centres and hospitals, including an insufficient flow of needed medical supplies to many locations and inadequate care for the injured and sick
· Insufficient emphasis on opening schools, leaving children on the streets where they are exposed to hazards, and leaving their parents overburdened and worried
· Ongoing malnutrition, with food supplies not yet stabilized and more than a quarter of all children under age five already malnourished
“The war may be over but the work is far from done,” Bellamy said. “Children are still dying, and they’re still at grave risk. Let’s make protecting children as comprehensive and urgent an objective as ending the war was.”
UNICEF said its own key priorities are supporting the recovery of basic health and water services, and immediately opening classrooms. It is also working to re-establish care for severely malnourished children. UNICEF noted that nearly half of Iraq’s population are children.
Children and Stability
Bellamy said that putting children first in national recovery efforts rallies a population and leads to greater stability and political consensus. She said experience in Afghanistan, Angola and other countries in crisis makes clear that focusing on children’s needs has a galvanizing and inspirational effect on populations that are hurting from years of struggle and conflict.
Bellamy added that when investment is made in children quickly – and with visible results – the prospects for post-conflict peace and stability improve significantly.
Classrooms Are Key
“Nothing will do more to immediately improve the well-being and protection of Iraq’s children than getting them back in the classroom,” Bellamy said. She noted that grassroots efforts to open schools had taken root in communities across the country, reflecting an awareness by parents that their children are at risk and need structure in their lives.
“Classrooms give children a positive focus, they allow the sharing of vital information, they keep children off the streets, they protect them from exploitation, they relieve parents and help them focus on their own recovery,” Bellamy said. “For UNICEF there is no more obvious and urgent priority than getting learning underway as widely and as quickly as possible.”
UNICEF has already delivered hundreds of pre-packed “School-In-A-Box” kits into Iraq to help local communities organize education efforts quickly. Thousands of additional kits are packed and ready to transport. Each kit contains the basics needed to organize a temporary classroom, including pencils and paper for children, chalk boards, bags for children to keep their work and materials in, and instructional aids for teachers. Each kit supports 80 children.
Lost in the Shuffle
“Enormous changes have taken place in Iraq in just six weeks, and enormous activity is underway to help the country and its people recover,” Bellamy observed. “But amidst all the activity, we are losing the focus on children. Let’s change that now. I urge everyone involved in the future of Iraq to put children first – and to do so peacefully and inclusively – in every decision, in every action, and in every step toward progress. This must be our new measure of success.”
Back in Baghdad
The arrival in Baghdad yesterday of UNICEF Iraq representative Mr. Carel de Rooy marks the first return of international UNICEF staff to the Iraqi capital since the final evacuation on March 19 prior to the outbreak of fighting.
Mr de Rooy's first stop after his 14 hour journey was to greet the 200-strong UNICEF national staff.
"These people worked throughout the conflict to maintain water systems and deliver humanitarian supplies," he said. "They did this despite fears for their own safety, and we at UNICEF applaud them for their courage and dedication."
UNICEF has supported Iraqi children since 1953, with a permanent presence in the country since 1983. UNICEF now has more than 200 national and international staff at work throughout the country.
Since the end of the war, UNICEF has supplied medicine and supplies for hundreds of thousands of people; delivered water equipment and worked to repair vital water facilities; tankered millions of litres of fresh water into the country; supported the opening of classrooms with school-in-a-box kits; and supplied high-protein biscuits and other life-saving nutritional items to children most in need.
To fund its emergency relief efforts UNICEF has appealed for $166 million. To date about one-third of these funds have been raised. UNICEF is funded entirely by the voluntary contributions of individuals, foundations, businesses and governments.
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UNICEF is funded entirely by the voluntary contributions of individuals, foundations, businesses, and governments. Contributions to UNICEF's ongoing support for Iraq children can be made at http://www.supportunicef.org/