Between a rock and a hard place: COVID-19 doubles the burden for millions of children in the Middle East and North Africa Region

UNICEF in the Middle East and North Africa appeals for US$93 million to help children in the region

19 April 2020
two workers in a supply warehouse

Links to multimedia, MENA Humanitarian Action for Children and  Situation report

AMMAN, 20 April 2020 – The COVID-19 (coronavirus) outbreak continues to spread throughout the Middle East and North Africa region with over 105,419 cases and 5,699 associated deaths. Iran recorded the highest number of cases among all countries in the region with nearly 80 per cent of total cases in the region.

“The region has the biggest number of children in need in the world due to ongoing conflicts and wars. It has the highest unemployment rates among young people while nearly half of all children in the region live in a multidimension of poverty; deprived of basic services including education, housing, nutrition, health care, safe water, sanitation and access to information”. said Ted Chaiban, UNICEF Regional Director for UNICEF in the Middle East and North Africa. “The combination of lack or inadequate basic services, years of conflict, poverty, deprivation and now COVID-19 are hitting vulnerable children the most, making their hard lives simply unbearable. The longer all of this goes on, the deeper the impact will be, especially on children” he added.

The region is home to nearly 25 million children in need including refugees and internally displaced. The majority of whom were uprooted due to armed conflicts and wars in Syria, Yemen, Sudan, the State of Palestine, Iraq and Libya. UNESCWA estimates that 1.7 million jobs would be lost in 2020 due to the closure of most businesses, suspension of salaries and near-total lockdowns. This is expected to increase poverty by an additional 8 million people in the region. UNICEF estimates that it is likely that half of them are children. Unless supported by national social protection systems and programmes, families will have no choice but to resort to child labour, early marriage and school drop-out only to survive.

“While we are fortunate not to have many cases among children, it is evident that the pandemic is affecting children firsthand. Many families in the region are already becoming poorer due to the loss of jobs especially the daily-paid. Families are struggling to bring food to the table due to containment measures. Beyond that, it is safe to say that all children across the region are impacted psychologically as a result of the shock of lock down, not going to school, not playing or doing sports outdoors or not being able to meet their friends” says Chaiban.

UNICEF is working with a wide network of partners around the clock in all countries in the region to support efforts to combat COVID-19. Hand-in-hand, UNICEF is undertaking some of the largest humanitarian operations in the world including in Syria and Yemen.

  • Across the region, UNICEF is working with governmental and non-governmental partners to reach and engage children, adolescents, youth and their families through up-to-date information and communication on practices to reduce risks of infection, maintain mental, physical and emotional health and wellbeing, and prevent stigma against those infected.  Over the past weeks, we reached nearly 22 million people through TV, radio and newspapers while more than 7 million people were reached via digital platforms.
  • Despite the closures of borders and air space and disruption in the air services globally and in the region, UNICEF has delivered so far nearly 1.6 million units of supplies across the region including through procurement from the local market to support the impacted economies. This includes support to the Ministries of Health and health workers on the frontlines with the delivery of critical medical and health supplies, including personal protective equipment like surgical masks, gowns, gloves and goggles, COVID-19 testing kits, hygiene products, thermometers and training of health workers on infection prevention.
  • Work with local partners to maintain and repair water networks, pumps and systems to provide running safe water to communities across the region critical to making water available to communities to support hygiene practices. In addition, UNICEF is providing water, sanitation and hygiene supplies including safe drinking water, soap bars, liquid soap, shampoo, detergents, jerry cans, disinfectants and hand sanitisers.
  • Around 110 million children in the region are now at home and not in school. UNICEF is supporting the efforts of Ministries of Education on the continuity of learning through distant learning programmes and putting mechanisms and tools to provide school children learning including making material available on radio, TV and online platforms and printed copies for vulnerable communities.
  • Provide parents and caregivers -as they stay home with their children- with tools on extra-curricular and recreational activities to overcome some of the psychological impact of the lockdown.
  • As part of global efforts to combat what has become an “info-demic” including fake news and inaccurate information, UNICEF is adding printed awareness material to its humanitarian assistance packages and disseminating information on radio and TV. It has launched a large-scale digital campaign on social media with information in Arabic and other local languages.

Within UNICEF’s global appeal for Humanitarian Action for Children, UNICEF in the MENA region is appealing today for US$92.4 million to be able to continue its response activities across the region in support of combating COVID-19.

Media contacts

Juliette Touma
Regional Chief of Advocacy and Communications
UNICEF Middle East and North Africa Regional Office
Tel: 00962798674628
Lina Elkurd
Communication Officer
UNICEF Middle East and North Africa Regional Office
Tel: 00962791096644


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