UNICEF in Emergencies & Humanitarian Action

UNICEF responds to urgent needs of children and women in Georgia and Russia

© UNICEF Georgia/2008/Nikolaishvili
Children like those shown here, taking shelter at a kindergarten in Tbilisi, represent 40 per cent of the total population displaced as a result of the conflict in and around South Ossetia, Georgia. Many of them need psychosocial services that UNICEF is working to provide.

NEW YORK, USA, 15 August 2008 – UNICEF remains deeply concerned about the safety and well-being of civilians affected by the hostilities in and around South Ossetia, Georgia. According to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, 100,000 people, many of them children and women, have been displaced as a result of the fighting. Many others have reportedly been killed or wounded.

Click here to listen to UNICEF Georgia Deputy Representative Benjamin Perks discussing the aid effort for people affected by the conflict.

“The scale of fighting took people completely by surprise,” Mr. Perks said, adding that most of those affected are being “housed in collective centres, while others are being housed with their families or other host families.”

UNICEF and its partners have already rushed nutritional and hygiene supplies, and water purification tablets, to more than 4,000 people who have fled their homes in Georgia. The organization also plans to airlift School-in-a-Box and recreation kits, basic family kits, and water and sanitation materials for approximately 6,000 families in the coming days.

Provision of psychosocial services for children who have witnessed violence is another important area in which UNICEF is planning to be involved.

© UNICEF Georgia/2008/Nikolaishvili
A young child at a shelter in a former office of the Georgian Ministry of Refugees and Accommodation – one of the public buildings where displaced people, including children and pregnant women, are sleeping on the floor without proper bedding.

Meeting basic health needs

On the Russian side, 30,000 people have crossed the border, seeking refuge in the Russian Federation, 80 per cent of them women and children. Many of them have been temporarily accommodated in collection centres and with families in North Ossetia and other regions of Russia’s south. The Russian Emergency Response Ministry, EMERCOM, has been supporting the emergency needs of the displaced in 51 centres.

In Georgia, most of the internally displaced persons have been accommodated in 170 temporary facilities such as kindergartens, schools, and public and governmental buildings. However, many of the facilities lack basic facilities and services such as toilets, potable water and electricity.

“We are trying to ensure that all children have basic health and hygiene needs taken care of,” said Mr. Perks. “We have a particular problem … with institutionalized children and children with disabilities who have also been affected by the conflict – and we’re making sure that social services are able to provide support for the especially vulnerable children who do not have the protection of a family.”

Psychosocial recovery

Mr. Perks added: “A number-one concern [is] that the huge escalation in violence and conflict will have a psychological impact not only on children, but on their parents as well.”

© UNICEF Georgia/2008/Nikolaishvili
A five-year old girl who has been displaced, together with her family, from the conflict zone near South Ossetia. According to their parents, many young children affected by the conflict can hardly sleep at night.

Psychosocial rehabilitation is also on the list of priorities of UNICEF in Russia’s North Caucasus.

“We have significant experience in this field following the implementation of an extensive psychosocial recovery programme in the aftermath of the Beslan school siege,” said the head of the UNICEF North Caucasus office, Rashed Mustafa. “And with the school year in Russia starting in just over two weeks, there is an urgent need to ensure these children’s right to education.”

Programmes of cooperation

UNICEF is working closely with UN agencies on the ground, assessing the situation and immediate needs. At present, access to the zones of conflict is extremely difficult. Offers of humanitarian assistance have been made by the UN to the Governments of Georgia and the Russian Federation.

UNICEF has offices in Tbilisi, Georgia, and in Moscow and Vladikavkaz (North Ossetia) in the Russian Federation, where it is working closely with government counterparts and partners in the implementation of country programmes of cooperation. They are closely monitoring the situation and have regular contact with the relevant government authorities.

“We need to be able to respond very rapidly to ensure a resumption of normal childhood activities for children and ensure that protection mechanisms and health standards are in place for them,” said Mr. Perks.




Deputy Representative of UNICEF in Georgia Benjamin Perks discusses the aid effort for people displaced by conflict in Georgia and Russia.
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