After more than a decade of conflict, children continue to pay the heaviest price.
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12 years of conflict leave massive needs
Even before powerful earthquakes rocked Syria in February 2023, millions of families required assistance due to an unprecedented economic crisis and deepening poverty. Now, as the conflict in Syria enters its 13th year, millions of children in Syria are at risk from the devastating effects of malnutrition.
An estimated more than 600,000 children under the age of five are stunted, the result of chronic undernutrition, leaving them at risk of irreversible physical and psychological damage. Meanwhile, hostilities continue unabated in several parts of the country, particularly in the northwest, and continue to leave children in fear of attacks and at risk of displacement.
The suffering facing Syria’s families was compounded by the deadly 6 February earthquakes, particularly in the coastal area and the northwest of the country, as houses were destroyed, critical infrastructure was decimated, and many children were left afraid to return homes as aftershocks have continued.
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Crisis in Syria: What you need to know
More than a decade of humanitarian crisis and hostilities has left children in Syria facing one of the most complex emergencies in the world. Two thirds of the population required assistance because of a worsening economic crisis, continued localized hostilities, mass displacement and devastated public infrastructure. Now, the country is also grappling with severe human and material damage from catastrophic earthquakes and aftershocks in February 2023 that have left families in urgent need of food, water, shelter, and emergency medical and psychosocial assistance.
Around 90 per cent of families in the country live in poverty, while more than 50 per cent are food insecure. The economic crisis is worsening negative coping mechanisms and particularly affecting female-headed households while contributing to the normalization of gender-based violence and child exploitation.
Amid the conflict, many children and families have been forced to flee to safer areas, resulting in considerable internal displacement. Due to the level of poverty associated with migrating populations, the most vulnerable children and their families often end up in slums if they move to urban areas. For families living in urban slums fending off the cold, let alone providing for their children’s basic needs, can be an enormous challenge.
Since a cholera outbreak was declared in early September 2022, more than 80,000 suspected cholera cases have been reported across the country. The collapsing health care system, lack of access to safe water, poor sanitation and increasing food insecurity has resulted not only in increased vulnerability to fast-spreading waterborne and vaccine-preventable diseases, but also sparked a dramatic increase in malnutrition among children.
How have children been affected by more than a decade of crisis?
For many children in Syria, conflict is the only thing they know. They continue to live in fear of violence, landmines, and explosive remnants of war. They struggle with physical and psychological scars of conflict.
The conflict has also brought one of the largest education crises in recent history, with a whole generation of Syrian children paying the price of conflict. Education facilities are overstretched, and many schools cannot be used because they have been destroyed, damaged, shelter displaced families or are being used for other purposes.
Children with disabilities carry a double burden when it comes to violence, threats to their health and safety, hunger, risk of abuse, and loss of education. Lack of mobility and difficulty fleeing harm have further compounded the challenges they face.
What is UNICEF doing to help children in Syria?
Across Syria and in the neighbouring countries, UNICEF and partners continue to work to protect children, to help them cope with the impact of conflict. This includes improving psychosocial support to help children and caregivers recover from trauma, as well as delivering lifesaving support and services for children struggling physically and psychologically.
UNICEF delivers critical humanitarian assistance, such as safe drinking water, vaccines and other health and nutrition items across the country, including accessing hard-to-reach areas. Meanwhile, UNICEF and partners are improving school facilities, training teachers and repairing water and sanitation facilities.
Read UNICEF’s 2023 Humanitarian Action for Children Syrian appeal
Check here for the latest Situation Reports for more on the situation in Syria and UNICEF’s response.