The Syrian catastrophe has left the country and its people reeling from the decimation and destruction of a seemingly endless war. The situation is worsening by the day. The escalation of fighting in the northwest since December has pushed over 900,000 people — including over half a million children — away from their homes and into danger. A staggering mass movement of people in such a short time.
For some, this is the sixth or seventh time they’ve been displaced. Many have fled to northwest Idlib, while others have scattered to Afrin, A’zaz and Al-Bab, near Aleppo and the Turkish border. Tens of thousands are now living in makeshift tents, public buildings and in the open air, huddled under trees — exposed to rain, snow and the sub-zero cold of a harsh Syrian winter.
The recent strikes on these makeshift camps in Idlib — and on the children and teachers horrifically killed February 25 as 10 schools were attacked — are both reprehensible and morally repugnant. These acts also clearly demonstrate the terrifying daily conditions of those living through this nightmare. We’ve heard and read reports of children freezing to death.
In these informal settlements, children and women are at particular risk of violence and exploitation. Makeshift toilets offer no safety or privacy. Landmines and improvised explosive devices dot the landscape. Every step people take is a risk.
In the northwest, 280,000 children have had their education cruelly snatched away. And an estimated 180 schools are out of operation — destroyed, damaged or being used for shelters. Another blow to children’s hopes and futures. Access to health care is almost non-existent or financially out-of-reach. Hospitals continue to be targeted. 72 have suspended services because of the fighting.
But the situation in the northwest is just the latest entry in the war’s devastation. Across the country, the nine-year war has decimated public services. Over half of all health facilities, and three out of 10 schools, are non-functional. The economy is in freefall — with the destruction of physical capital costing an estimated $120 billion, and half a trillion in economic losses. And the Syrian pound has lost nearly 50 per cent of its value in the last year. But the true cost of the carnage is not measured in lost infrastructure or economic devastation.
It is measured in the daily lives of people. In the 11 million people across Syria who still require urgent humanitarian assistance. Almost half are children. In the 6.5 million Syrians going hungry every day because of food insecurity. The price of essential food items has risen 20 times since the war began. Devastating for a country in which 80 per cent of people already live below the poverty line. Families are forced to sell off their household assets — or send their children to work — just to meet basic necessities.
Children are going without vital immunizations, medical treatments or other health services because of high costs or gaps in service. One in three Syrian children is out of school. 6.7 million refugees have fled Syria since the war began, and 6.2 million — and counting —are internally displaced. Almost a decade of war has forced nearly half of the country’s population from their homes.
Thousands — Syrian and foreign alike — are confined to camps that are not fit for children. Armed groups have recruited and used boys to fight on the frontlines. Girls as young as nine have been raped. And one in four children is at risk of severe mental disorders. The horrific scale and speed of the crisis has multiplied the humanitarian needs. UNICEF, our sister agencies and our partners are doing all we can.
Last year, we screened 1.8 million mothers and children for malnutrition. We delivered health consultations to over two million. Over 7.4 million people across Syria received water and sanitation services, including improved access to water, hygiene kits and purifying tablets. We provided almost 400,000 women and children with psychosocial counselling, to help them cope with the trauma they’ve endured. We helped 1.8 million children continue their education. We provided winter clothing and blankets to over 37,000 children. And we vaccinated nearly 600,000 children under the age of one.
This is on top of the thousands of children we’ve reached — and continue to reach — across Syria over the last nine years. But the needs are overwhelming — and rapidly outpacing our resources. We know we need more funding and more resources to support these lives and give Syrian society even a chance at a better, more peaceful future.
Investing in the children of Syria is the best investment that any one of us can make. An investment in the future. An investment in peace. The longer this war continues, the more children are going to die on the world’s watch. More will be forced from their homes to make long, perilous journeys to safety. More neighbouring countries will be under pressure to accept more refugees, when they have already been so generous in hosting them. And with each passing month, the ability of Syria, and the region, to recover grows more hopeless.
Schools bombed. Communities flattened. Bodies broken. Minds shattered. Families torn apart. Futures — and hopes — stolen. And still the fighting continues.
Next year, we will mark the 10th anniversary of the Syrian conflict — an anniversary none of us wants to see. Millions of Syrian children are crying tonight — from hunger and cold, from wounds and pain, from fear, loss and heartbreak. They and their families face a brutal winter and an uncertain year ahead. We must stand with them.
- UNICEF Executive Director Henrietta Fore, briefing to the Security Council at the United Nations in New York on the situation for children in Syria
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