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UNICEF issues urgent humanitarian call for Iraqi children

GENEVA, April 18 2007 - Citing the consequences of rising security risks to Iraqi children and families, UNICEF asked Wednesday to step up support to the country’s most vulnerable, who are increasingly in danger of malnutrition and disease.

“The humanitarian crisis is nothing short of urgent,” said Daniel Toole UNICEF’s Director of Emergency Programmes, adding that it is the responsibility of the international community to support Iraq and its neighbors to create immediate relief for Iraqi children and their families.

“The humanitarian situation has deteriorated for all Iraqi children – both inside Iraq and in neighboring countries hosting refugees.  In the last year alone conditions have eroded significantly and today nearly two million people have fled their homes inside Iraq and are thus internally displaced,” Toole told donor governments gathered at a UNHCR conference in Geneva dedicated to the humanitarian needs of Iraqi refugees and displaced people. Another two million – half of them children – are seeking refuge in a handful of neighboring countries.

While conditions for children were considered fragile but stable one year ago, now escalating violence prevents many from attending school. Access to safe water and other basic social services continues to decline due to insecurity, population movement, the loss of skilled workers and the weakening of vital infrastructure. Combined, these factors have created an increasing problem of child malnutrition. Furthermore, the risk of major disease outbreaks grows daily. Immunization rates are dropping as a result of the decline in security. Access to safe water is reaching a crisis point and diarrhoea outbreaks in the summer months are a real danger.

To escape the deteriorating situation in Iraq, hundreds of thousands of families have fled to neighboring Syria and Jordan, where the increased demand on local health and education services is creating a strain on these countries.

UNICEF and its local partners continue to operate in Iraq, providing safe water and health and nutrition services, in spite of daily security risks to staff.  And, to prepare for the coming months, UNICEF allocated $2 million dollars of its internal emergency reserve for Iraq and an additional $700,000 for refugees in Syria.

Yet, without increased support of the Iraqi government and the international community, the demand for existing humanitarian efforts will far outweigh the supply.  UNICEF requires $20 million for the most urgent humanitarian aid for Iraq of which only 11 per cent has been received to date.

“The time for increased humanitarian action is now,” said Toole, adding that security must be restored if humanitarian efforts are to bear fruit. “We cannot ensure widespread health services if women are afraid to take their children to clinics; we cannot hope for full school enrolment and participation if families are afraid to send their children to school; and we cannot hope for improved health and nutrition if civilians risk their lives simply shopping for groceries.”

UNICEF is on the ground in over 150 countries and territories to help children survive and thrive, from early childhood through adolescence.  The world’s largest provider of vaccines for developing countries, UNICEF supports child health and nutrition, good water and sanitation, quality basic education for all boys and girls, and the protection of children from violence, exploitation, and AIDS.  UNICEF is funded entirely by the voluntary contributions of individuals, businesses, foundations and governments.

For more information please contact:

Rafael Hermoso, UNICEF New York Emergencies: Tel:+ 1 212 326 7516, Email: rhermoso@unicef.org

Patrick McCormick, UNICEF New York Emergencies: Tel:+ 1 212 326 7426; Mobile + 1 646 427 7905, Email: pmccormick@unicef.org

Veronique Taveau, UNICEF Geneva Spokesperson: Tel: +41 22 909 5716 Mobile: +41 79 216 94 01, Email : vtaveau@unicef.org




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