Millions of children throughout the Middle East are in danger as bitter cold temperatures and winter weather bear down on the region, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) said today, as it warned the agency faces a $38 million funding gap as it races to provide assistance.
“The winter months are even more brutal for vulnerable children in the region,” said Geert Cappelaere, UNICEF Regional Director for the Middle East and North Africa.
He explained that they are weakened from months of undernutrition and lack of health care, putting them at high risk of hypothermia and serious respiratory infections from the cold.
“Without help, winter could be another harsh sentence for many of them,” the UNICEF official stressed.
Families affected by the conflict in Syria and Iraq are exhausted from years of violence, displacement, and unemployment. Their financial resources are drained, making it all but impossible to purchase warm clothing and heating fuel. On top of the struggle to survive with the bare minimum, many are living in makeshift shelters and camps that offer scant protection against the cold. Many have fled conflicts without bringing any belongings.
UNICEF is hoping to provide more than 2.5 million children in Syria, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey, and Egypt with warm clothing, thermal blankets, and cash assistance for families this winter.
So far, winter kits have been distributed to nearly 50,000 children in Syria, including those living in shelters following evacuations from east Aleppo. The agency has provided heating to schools in Lebanon for 95,000 children and cash assistance for more than 50,000 in Jordan. 38,000 children and 400 pregnant or lactating mothers in Iraq have received winter clothing.
However, needs are outpacing support: UNICEF has received just slightly more than half of the $82 million required to help protect vulnerable children from the cold.
The winter assistance the agency seeks to provide is in addition to its ongoing programmes that provide health, nutrition, water, sanitation, protection, and education to millions of children throughout the Middle East.