Tag Archives: conflict

Displaced Iraqi children from Mosul now living in Baherka Camp in northern Iraq.

An uncertain future for the children of Iraq

Leaving the departures terminal in Baghdad airport is like walking into an oven. It is over 50 degrees. I haven’t been to Baghdad for three years. When I last left, I thought the country was on the right track.

Things have, however, taken a sharp turn since June last year – and not in the right direction. More than three million people have been displaced. Many ran for their lives. Children have been abducted, girls raped and tens of thousands of houses looted or seized.

It’s rush hour as we drive into the ‘International Zone’, a fortified area of about 10 square km where the United Nations offices are located. On ‘Route Charlie’ – or the ‘route of the dead’, as it was known during the 2003 conflict – dozens of Iraqi cars are queued at the checkpoint, their human cargo trying to get to work.

Displaced Iraqi children from Mosul now living in Baherka Camp in northern Iraq.

Displaced Iraqi children from Mosul now living in Baherka Camp in northern Iraq. (c)UNICEF/2015/Juliette Touma

Baghdad
At 7 p.m., we meet our colleague A’li in Baghdad. A’li’s just back from the camps of displaced people. He’s sweating. He tells us about the misery he’s witnessed. “The past few days have been sheer hell,” he says. “People were pleading for drinking water.” A’li and colleagues have been working to truck water into the area.

A’li is among some 40 Iraqi staff working with UNICEF in Baghdad, helping children and families in need. Every morning, they take the perilous journey to work. In the past week alone, two bombs have gone off in the capital, killing more than 100 people. According to the United Nations Mission in Iraq, July has been the deadliest month so far this year. “I have to leave my house at five every morning to avoid traffic and the bombs,” Omar, another colleague, tells me.

Back on the airport road, a huge placard reads: “The will of the people is stronger than the tyrants!” A few days later, mass protests take place in Baghdad. Iraqis are protesting the lack of electricity amid what has been reported as the harshest heat wave in decades.

Erbil
We head north to Erbil, in the Kurdistan Region, which last year received the highest number of families fleeing violence in Mosul and other areas. Many left loved ones behind.

Rami, 12, recounts how his grandfather disappeared when armed groups attacked his house in Hamdaniya, outside Mosul. He now lives in the Baherka camp, which is home to 1,500 children.

As we walk through the camp, I can’t help but think: “Hang on a minute – I’ve been here before.” Except I haven’t. I realize that what this camp in Iraq reminds me of is Za’atari camp for Syrian refugees in Jordan. The similarities are everywhere. It is dusty, boiling hot, full of tents. In a different country going through a different conflict for a different reason, people’s analogous stories of despair sound like restless shouts into the void.

Future
Iraq is spending 35 per cent of its budget on security, and the humanitarian funding is dwindling. On this visit, I keep thinking of the huge duty for aid workers. Up until a few years ago, Iraq was very close to achieving the Millennium Development Goals, especially when it came to children’s enrolment in education. Quite impressive, given that Iraq has gone through more than three decades of conflict, sanctions and economic stagnation. But, like Yemen and Syria, Iraq is now sinking into violence, killings and anguish. Children are at the very centre of the suffering.

A couple of frightening numbers keep popping up as a reminder of the challenge ahead of us: There are 3 million children out of school in Iraq, while 35,000 children under 5 die every year.

I hope that, when I go back to Iraq again in a few years’ time, every single one of these children will be sitting at a desk in a nice school, and all newborns will get to grow up into healthy babies. I wonder what Rami’s destiny will be. Will he continue to live in a camp? Will he get out and rebuild his life? Or will he perhaps, like many thousands, end up fleeing Iraq entirely, perhaps on a rickety boat, thinking, hoping, no matter the journey, life must certainly be better somewhere else?

Juliette Touma is a Communications & Media Specialist with the UNICEF Regional Office for the Middle East and North Africa.

Children UNICEF

Children on the move through Europe dream of a ‘normal’ life

Mascut, 3, from Syria, plays with a ball at the UNICEF-supported child-friendly space. After waiting 6 hours in the sun to cross the border with his mother and sister, he recalls what it feels like to rest and play before embarking on the next stretch to Serbia.

Mascut, 3, from Syria, plays with a ball at the UNICEF-supported child-friendly space. After waiting 6 hours in the sun to cross the border with his mother and sister, he recalls what it feels like to rest and play before embarking on the next stretch to Serbia. (c)UNICEFMK/2015/TomislavGeorgiev

When I arrived on Saturday to the town of Gevgelija near the border with Greece, I witnessed people and children with utter desperation and fear in their eyes. Thousands of children and families on the move from conflict zones in the Middle East, Asia and parts of Africa had pushed through a police cordon where they had been waiting to enter the country. This resulted in a stampede as exhausted and frightened people raced towards the city centre.

Amidst the confusion, children were separated from their families and left to wander down the nearby railway tracks. My colleague and I, worried for their safety, set out to find these children so that we could bring them to a makeshift protection centre until they could be reunited with their parents and caregivers. It was a terrifying ordeal for them, but fortunately, all of the boys and girls were later able to re-join their families.

Yet for most of these children, this incident was just one more hardship in their long and perilous journeys in search of safety after having been displaced by conflict from their home countries. Some 2,000 – 3,000 people, usually in smaller groups of 50 – 100, are now crossing daily from Greece into the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia after making the dangerous trip by sea across the Aegean. Soon they will move on to Serbia and then to other countries in the European Union.

After travelling for days on end, the youngest children in particular often arrive dehydrated or running a fever because they have been sleeping out in the open. Children and adults come barefoot, their shoes having been destroyed after so much walking.

Some families are from Syria or Iraq, while others have travelled from Afghanistan. All just want to live in peace, free from the threat of violence, displacement and death.

Lamar, 4, has travelled with her mother for just over 2 months from Syria to the Gevgelija border crossing. They are heading to Germany to reunite with Lamar's father who managed to reach Germany 4 months ago. Her mother tells us their house was burned to the ground and that they have nothing left. The hope of reuniting their family and a better life gives them courage to keep moving.

Lamar, 4, has travelled with her mother for just over 2 months from Syria to the Gevgelija border crossing. They are heading to Germany to reunite with Lamar’s father who managed to reach Germany 4 months ago. Her mother tells us their house was burned to the ground and that they have nothing left. The hope of reuniting their family and a better life gives them courage to keep moving. (c)UNICEFMK/2015/TomislavGeorgiev

Most of the children I have spoken with do not want to talk about their experiences with war. They are more interested in sharing their hopes for the future which always seems to include going back to school. Just the other day, I watched as a group of children from several different countries played together by pretending they were in a classroom. Even though they did not all speak the same language, they organized themselves into ‘pretend’ teachers and students – sharing in the same pleasant daydream of just being a ‘normal kid’.

It’s been about five days since the chaotic scene at the border and the services available for people crossing over have improved. There is a new Migrant Reception Centre about 500 metres from the Greek border and we are working with our partners to ensure that children and families arriving here are provided with essential services to help sustain them for their onward journey. A second tent at the centre is now being used as a safe space place for women and children to access support services.

Yet far more must be done to meet the growing humanitarian needs here. There is not enough shelter to accommodate the number of people passing through and many are forced to sit outside for hours in the scorching sun. More sanitation facilities are needed and there is no running water – I’ve seen parents washing their children with bottled water.

We’re here to help though and day by day, it will get better. I hope that one day soon the children I have met here will get what they want most – a normal life where they will be able to sit in a real classroom instead of an imaginary one.

Aleksandar Lazovski is a UNICEF Social Protection Specialist

Back in April, residents fill their containers with water at outdoor taps in Sana’a.

Checkpoints, water and the children of Yemen

A boy pushes a wheelbarrow filled with jerrycans in Sana’a, the capital of Yemen.

A boy pushes a wheelbarrow filled with jerrycans in Sana’a, the capital of Yemen. © UNICEF/NYHQ2015-1291/Yasin

My job is to ensure that more people have access to water and sanitation in Yemen, one of the most water-scarce countries in the world. After less than a month there, I had to leave Sana’a, along with other international United Nations colleagues, because of the escalation in conflict.

It is now the holy month of Ramadan and I’m back in Sana’a. Although it feels good to be back, my return comes with mixed feelings. The lively and bustling city that I left just three months ago is now deserted, except for the kilometres-long lines of cars waiting for petrol and the garbage piled up on the streets. We drive past a checkpoint, where I see a boy with a rifle, clearly too young to be holding a weapon. A bit further down the road, people queue up at a mosque to fill their jerry cans with water. Desperation is visible in their eyes.

The conflict in Yemen has brought the country to the brink of a humanitarian catastrophe. A colleague describes it as “the straw that broke the camel’s back”. Schools, hospitals, roads and bridges are damaged, and public services have collapsed. Supplies of food, fuel and medicines are critically low, and the lack of safe water and proper sanitation poses serious health risks to millions of people.

It is clear that the people of Yemen are suffering and need urgent help. And that’s exactly why I came back. My team and I are working around the clock to provide children and their families affected by the conflict with clean water and basic hygiene kits that contain necessities like soap and jerry cans.

Back in April, residents fill their containers with water at outdoor taps in Sana’a.

Back in April, residents fill their containers with water at outdoor taps in Sana’a. © UNICEF/NYHQ2015-0870/Hamoud

The United Nations estimates that 80 per cent of the population is in need of humanitarian assistance, a number that gives me goose bumps. But small things continue to inspire me, like the trucks on the streets of Sana’a that have started to collect garbage strewn all over, which has in part been possible because of UNICEF’s contribution of fuel to the local authorities. UNICEF is also providing fuel for over 10 cities in the country, to keep the pumps of the urban water systems operational, thereby reaching millions of people.

From time to time, emotions overwhelm me. Of course my heartbeat goes up when my bed shakes from the loud bombing nearby at night. But it affects me more when I get the news that a staff of one of our local partners was shot by a sniper while delivering water to a community, and another constructing latrines for displaced people was kidnapped for a week. At the same time, there are heroic stories of those involved in transporting supplies and fuel to pump water to areas where heavy conflict is ongoing, and where no assistance was able to reach before.

I feel a lot of respect for all of my Yemeni colleagues who continue to go out and serve those displaced while putting their lives at risk. Being back in Yemen has brought me closer to my team. I’ve begun to understand the difficult conditions people face every day, and that it hasn’t stopped us from planning big and going the extra mile. What if we could negotiate access to collect the solid waste in Aden, where a disease outbreak is looming? What if we could distribute hygiene kits to the people who are left behind in Sa’ada, because they have no means to leave the area?

Reaching these people is so important, because our biggest fear is that the children of Yemen won’t die of bullets and bombs, but of preventable diseases like diarrhoea and pneumonia. In addition to medical services and vaccinations, providing clean water, a toilet and a piece of soap can literally save a child’s life. Even if the conflict rages on, and we are denied access time and again, we will continue to try to reach out to those most in need. But most importantly, we will continue to hope that one day this conflict will end and peace will return to the people of Yemen.

Marije Broekhuijsen works in Yemen as a UNICEF Water, Sanitation and Hygiene specialist. This post was written during the month of Ramadan.

A mother from Luhansk in Ukraine, breastfeeds her child.

Combatting breastfeeding myths in Ukraine

A mother from Luhansk in Ukraine, breastfeeds her child.

A mother from Luhansk in Ukraine, breastfeeds her child. © UNICEF Ukraine/2015

Over the past month I’ve been working with UNICEF Ukraine to support nutrition interventions during the emergency response. Advocating for early initiation of breastfeeding, six months exclusive breastfeeding and complementary breastfeeding for up to two years is a regular part of my job. It is driven by my medical background but also my experiences as a father of two children who enjoyed the benefits of breastfeeding.

Beyond providing technical assistance to partners in the Ministry of Health, technical institutions and local authorities, I work with partners to advocate and support breastfeeding because it gives the healthiest start in life for each child.

Time after time, I cite the facts and quote global studies to mothers and those who can play a crucial role in supporting them – their extended families:

  • Breastfeeding plays a critical role in reducing preventable infant deaths.
  • Breastfeeding protects against infectious diseases.
  • Breastmilk provides essential nutrients.
  • Breastfeeding promotes brain and cognitive development, contributing to higher IQs.
  • Exclusive and extended breastfeeding has been linked to longer school attendance and higher incomes as adults.

According to country survey data from 2012, only 66 per cent of Ukrainian mothers start breastfeeding newborns within one hour of birth, even though early initiation of breastfeeding is a very important step to ensure healthy start in life. And only 20 per cent of children under six months were exclusively breastfed.

Aiming to support nutrition interventions in Eastern Ukraine, UNICEF is working with partners from the US Centers of Disease Control (CDC) and Save the Children to support ongoing data collection about infant and young child feeding.

It is very important to use different opportunities to disseminate the message to Health professionals, media, outreach activities, volunteers, families, religious leaders that breastfeeding is the best for children and there is no need for any additional food or water up to six months.

From my work I have seen that mothers around the world have managed to breastfeed their children in very difficult situations – during conflicts and displacement, lacking water and sanitation. In fact, exclusive breastfeeding can be a lifesaving practice during crises and emergencies, protecting babies against diseases and malnutrition. It can mean the difference between life and death.

Here in Ukraine, the conflict has had an impact on breastfeeding. Based on an assessment conducted earlier this year in three regions, exclusive breastfeeding among internally displaced children under six months is only 26 per cent. Providing water, breastmilk substitutes and early complementary foods for children under six months are common practice. Some health workers provide incorrect advice to parents about the early introduction of water, complementary food, and even breastmilk substitutes.

Several humanitarian organizations are supporting displaced people and providing family food baskets. Some also distribute food packets for children. Nevertheless, the practice of distributing infant formula to large numbers of families with young children should be discontinued immediately and urgently, as per global guidelines.

Tragically, almost half of the internally displaced mothers stopped breastfeeding their infants under six months because they perceive a drop in breastmilk due to the stress of their vulnerable situation. While the weight of their situation understandably causes tremendous worry for new mothers, stress does not have a substantial, long-term impact on breastmilk production. In fact, only the “let down” – for which mothers need to be relaxed – is affected. With caring, emotional and practical support, mothers can continue to breastfeed.

Considering this, we need to join efforts and resources to provide evidence-based information about breastfeeding to policy makers, decision makers, health workers and parents to permanently dispel myths about breastfeeding.

This situation can be improved by supporting mothers, providing counselling and education in health centres and in their communities. Research has shown that continuous support of mothers by fathers and other family members is very important to achieve exclusive breastfeeding for the first 6 months.

I encourage all to support breastfeeding and make sure that Ukraine’s children, and all children in displaced situations, get the best start in life.

Agron Gashi, MD, MP, is a Health and Nutrition Officer working at UNICEF Kosovo

RRM distribution in Kallar district, 28-7-2015, for IDPs from ANBAR , distributed to 1065 families, save the children the partner

In Iraq, reaching families caught in the fighting

RRM distribution in Kallar district, 28-7-2015, for IDPs from ANBAR , distributed to 1065 families, save the children the partner

The RRM distribution in Kalar district on 28 July reached 1,065 families. (c) UNICEF Iraq

The memory of a turning point in life – a change, a decision – sticks with you, clear as the day it happened.

“I joined Save the Children on 2nd February, 2014,” Nourshan recalled. “I had been in Dohuk, in northern Iraq, for six months, waiting to register for university.”

Nourshan, 24, isn’t from Iraq. Her home is in Aleppo, Syria, where in January 2013, she had six credits remaining to graduate from university with a degree in English Literature. “Ours was the first university to be bombed in Syria,” she explained about the abrupt halt in her education. “I remember, I was reading Othello.”

Nourshan. (c) UNICEF Iraq

Nourshan. (c) UNICEF Iraq

Nourshan is the Rapid Response Mechanism Program Manager at Save the Children. She travels around Iraq, conducting distributions of life-saving humanitarian aid. Save the Children, as a part of the UNICEF- and WFP-led Rapid Response Mechanism (RRM) Consortium, has contributed to the distribution of drinking water, emergency food, and hygiene items to more than 3 million displaced people since July 2014.

At a distribution site in Kalar, on the border of Sulimaniyah and Diyala governorates in northern Iraq, three large trucks reverse to form an L-shape in a gravel parking lot outside of a police station. Nourshan calmly explains to arriving families how to register to receive the food, water, and hygiene supplies.

It’s a feat to remain collected under these grueling conditions- by 11 AM, the sun is baking the gathering crowd, there is scant shelter and it’s 49 C degree.

“The items that we’re delivering are the most important,” Nourshan says, standing by the distribution line. “They need water. They need something to eat. They need to wash their hands. It’s that simple.”

A family who received supplies during the RRM distribution in Kallar district in late July.

A family who received supplies during the RRM distribution in Kallar district in late July. (c) UNICEF Iraq

Nourshan started supporting the Rapid Response Mechanism in May 2015. She was struck by the urgency of the crisis – and the challenges posed by the mass movement of entire communities during conflict.

On 24 May, families fleeing escalating violence in Ramadi were stranded at Karatoo checkpoint, unable to pass from Diyala Governorate into Sulimaniya Governorate as fighting drew nearer. Nourshan and Save the Children had a narrow window of opportunity to reach the families as violence escalated nearby. But with the support of the RRM Consortium, and a stock of emergency humanitarian aid, they responded immediately.

“People were surprised we crossed the checkpoint to help them. We could hear the gunfire 200 metres away,” she said. When Nourshan and her team reached the families, they found a lot of people in need of medical care.

“Women had fainted. Elderly people were suffering from the heat and exhaustion.”

Save the Children alerted a service organization to the medical needs, and conducted a rapid assessment so that follow-up programming could address the families’ continuing needs for water, health, and protection services.

UNICEF, WFP and RRM partners, including Save the Children, aim to reach approximately 272,000 more families or an additional 1.9 million people before the end of the year.

When Nourshan left Syria, her plans for the future were put on hold. However, she remembers the exact day – the turning point – when she found a new purpose in helping others affected by conflict, just across the border the Iraq. In her work with the Rapid Response Mechanism, she continues that outreach – across borders and barriers – with a single focus to support vulnerable people in crisis.

“At that moment, I didn’t feel there was any difference between us. Our staff, the families, their children – we were all there together. They were really surprised to see us. I felt like we were doing something that was needed,” she said.

Chelsea Cowan is a consultant working with UNICEF Iraq.

A community volunteer registers children for a new playground in the Nyarugusu camp.

Tanzania: responding to the needs of vulnerable children from Burundi

The influx of Burundians seeking refuge in Tanzania since the unrest in their own country began is enormous – we’re looking at a figure above 80,000, more than half, children. And of those children, over 952 are unaccompanied by any known adult – their parents or a guardian – and 1,732 have been separated from their parents or other family members. We classify them as ‘unaccompanied’ or ‘separated’ to distinguish between circumstances; 4 per cent of them are under five.

A Burundian girl carries her younger sister.

A Burundian girl carries her younger sister. © UNICEF/NYHQ2015-1727/Beechey

It’s challenging dealing with an emergency that affects so many children. It’s really hard to ascertain which children need the most urgent help when – given the trauma that they’ve all endured, given how afraid they are and how disorientated – they all need help. That’s why the rapid identification and registration of children at risk is so vital: understanding how old they are and why they’ve arrived alone/without their parents or primary caregivers helps us to identify which children are most vulnerable. And it’s crucial that we record children’s details and stories as quickly as possible before the detail is lost.

Life in a refugee camp is very tough – especially in a crisis situation when huge numbers of people need to be accommodated in mass shelters. In this context of congestion and confusion children can be victims of exploitation: they may be exposed to abuse, emotional, physical or sexual, or suffer ill health.

Burundian adults attend a session to identify and train potential foster parents in the Nyarugusu refugee camp.

Burundian adults attend a session to identify and train potential foster parents in the Nyarugusu refugee camp. © UNICEF/NYHQ2015-1724/Beechey

I’ve been a Child Protection Specialist with UNICEF for three years and it’s my job to ensure that vulnerable children – whether recorded as unaccompanied, separated or presenting with other special protection needs – get access to the relevant services, and quickly. One of the ways in which we do this is to link vulnerable children with able, willing adults who can help them meet their basic needs and protect them from harm.

We identify foster parents in the community and support them with training – educating them as to the needs of vulnerable children. We coach them in ‘parenting’, helping them to understand what fostering involves, and similarly we engage children who need fostering to make sure they understand the situation and are comfortable with it. It’s all about managing a child’s wellbeing and safety and at the same time, managing expectations.

Fostering can be especially tricky when adolescents are concerned. At 16 or 17 many don’t want to be fostered and this can create difficulties as they often aren’t able to cope on their own. Some of them are even caregivers themselves, taking care of their siblings as heads of their household. In these situations, we try to counsel them, to help them understand the importance of some support. In addition to foster parents, we also train caregivers to support those children who have assumed caregiving responsibility in the absence of their parents.

A community volunteer registers children for a new playground in the Nyarugusu camp.

A community volunteer registers children for a new playground in the Nyarugusu camp. © UNICEF/NYHQ2015-1721/Beechey

We’re supported in our work by an able team of government Social Welfare officers who are very hands on and have the appropriate training and experience to engage with children. They are able to develop trusting relationships with children so that we can draw the necessary background information from a child to help put the right support services in place. All the humanitarian agencies collaborate in this, for example, children who have been exposed to gender-based violence are referred to the International Rescue Committee (IRC), children with health issues to the health sector.

It’s a time-consuming process because managing things like this can’t be rushed – it’s such a delicate process, you’re dealing with incredibly fragile, traumatized children. In the first month of the crisis, 1,956 unaccompanied and separated children had been identified but the services had only reached 34 per cent of them.

We have solid systems in place, but no two children are the same. The only thing they have in common is the tragedy of their experiences – they all need to be treated on a sensitive individual basis. That’s why working together is so crucial. It’s all about creating a chain that interlinks so that we all understand how different cases are being managed and by whom, all in an effort to prevent vulnerable children from falling through gaps.

Evans Mori is a Child Protection Specialist working with UNICEF Tanzania

A Yazidi girl poses for the camera. The Yazidis, are an ethnic minority in Iraq, and amongst some of the most vulnerable of the eight million people who've been affected by conflict.

Fears for Iraqi children as funding runs low

A Yazidi girl poses for the camera. The Yazidis, are an ethnic minority in Iraq, and amongst some of the most vulnerable of the eight million people who've been affected by conflict.

A Yazidi girl poses for the camera. The Yazidis are an ethnic minority in Iraq and among some of the most vulnerable of the eight million people who’ve been affected by conflict. © UNICEF Iraq/2014/Khuzaie

During Ramadan, the month in which observant Muslims take no food or water between sunrise and sunset, life in northern Iraq visibly slows down. Daytime temperatures hover in the mid to high 40Cs, so whether one is fasting or not, it’s wise to think carefully about venturing outdoors for extended periods.

“This is nothing,” an Iraqi colleague said when I remarked on the heat. “Later in summer, it’ll be 52C.”

I cannot imagine what 52C feels like. September, when temperatures start to drop, feels a very long way off.

There are hundreds of thousands of families for whom this searing heat represents a very real risk. More than three million people are displaced throughout Iraq. Many are living in tents, caravans, or unofficial shelters with inadequate services.

How will they cope? Will they have air conditioners? What about safe water, and adequate sanitation facilities? How will they protect themselves from the ever-present risk of fire and disease? Who will help them if they have extra challenges, such as illness or disability?

A Yazidi man receives a UNICEF aid kit. The conflict which has engulfed Iraq in the past year has displaced millions of people and shows no sign of ending.

A Yazidi man receives a UNICEF aid kit. The conflict, which has engulfed Iraq in the past year, has displaced millions of people and shows no sign of ending. © UNICEF Iraq/2014/Khuzaie

These are serious questions, because the scary fact is that UNICEF is running out of money to help the more than eight million Iraqis affected by this crisis.

Even taking into account Iraq’s troubled history, this humanitarian disaster is of unprecedented magnitude. And there’s no reason to suppose there’s an end in sight; last month, in one week alone, more than 20,000 people were displaced by conflict in Salah al-Din Governorate.

The United Nations estimates that by year’s end 10 million Iraqis will be affected—that’s nearly a third of the country.

Yet UNICEF is fast approaching the moment when it’ll be forced to cut back its programmes and stop some altogether. Halting critical work at the time when Iraqi children need us the most seems unthinkable. But without the necessary funds, we may have no choice.

Chris Niles is an Emergency Communications Consultant with UNICEF Iraq.

A Yazidi man receives a UNICEF aid kit. The conflict which has engulfed Iraq in the past year has displaced millions of people and shows no sign of ending.

Temor por los niños de Iraq al disminuir los fondos

Una niña yazidi posa para la cámara. Los yazidis son una minoría étnica en Iraq y, de los 8 millones de personas afectadas por el conflicto, ellos se cuentan entre los más vulnerables.

Una niña yazidi posa para la cámara. Los yazidis son una minoría étnica en Iraq y, de los 8 millones de personas afectadas por el conflicto, ellos se cuentan entre los más vulnerables. © UNICEF Iraq/2014/Khuzaie

Durante el ramadán, el mes en que los musulmanes practicantes no consumen alimentos ni beben agua entre el amanecer y el atardecer, evidentemente baja el ritmo de vida en el norte de Iraq. Durante el día, la temperatura sobrepasa los 40 grados centígrados, de modo que se esté o no ayunando, es prudente pensarlo dos veces antes de animarse a salir a la calle por lapsos largos.

“Eso no es nada”, afirmó un colega iraquí cuando me referí al calor. “En verano, la temperatura llegará a 52 grados centígrados”.

No puedo imaginar lo que se siente con una temperatura semejante. Y septiembre, cuando empezará a bajar, parece estar muy lejos.

Para cientos de miles de familias, este sofocante calor representa un verdadero riesgo. Hay más de 3 millones de personas desplazadas en Iraq, y muchas están viviendo en tiendas de campaña, caravanas o albergues no oficiales que carecen de servicios adecuados.

¿Cómo se las arreglarán? ¿Tendrán aire acondicionado? ¿Cómo accederán a agua potable y a un saneamiento adecuado? ¿Cómo se protegerán del riesgo permanente de enfermarse? ¿Y del riesgo de incendio? ¿Quién les ayudará si tienen dificultades adicionales, como alguna enfermedad o discapacidad?

Un hombre yazidi recibe un estuche de UNICEF con elementos básicos. El conflicto en que se sumió Iraq el año pasado ocasionó el desplazamiento de millones de personas, y no muestra signos de terminar.

Un hombre yazidi recibe un estuche de UNICEF con elementos básicos. El conflicto en que se sumió Iraq el año pasado ocasionó el desplazamiento de millones de personas, y no muestra signos de terminar. © UNICEF Iraq/2014/Khuzaie

Se trata de interrogantes serios porque la realidad es que UNICEF se está quedando sin dinero para ayudar a los más de 8 millones de iraquís afectados por esta crisis.

Incluso teniendo en cuenta la turbulenta historia de Iraq, la magnitud de este desastre humanitario no tiene precedentes. Y no hay motivos para suponer que el final esté cerca; el mes pasado, apenas en el curso de una semana, más de 20.000 personas resultaron desplazadas por el conflicto en la provincia de Salah al-Din.

Las Naciones Unidas calculan que para finales del presente año habrá 10 millones de iraquís afectados, esto es, casi un tercio de la población del país.

Sin embargo, se acerca rápidamente el momento en que UNICEF se verá obligado a recortar sus programas e, incluso, a suspender algunos. Resulta impensable detener una labor tan importante como la que llevamos a cabo, en momentos en que los niños y las niñas de Iraq más nos necesitan. Pero sin los fondos necesarios, es posible que no haya otra alternativa.

Chris Niles es Consultor de Comunicaciones de Emergencia de UNICEF Iraq.

Haja Misk with her four grandchildren

Yemen: a grandmother’s plea for peace

Alhaga Misk with her four grandchildren

Alhaga Misk with her four grandchildren. (c) UNICEF Yemen/Rania Al-Zubairi

“I want nothing for myself. I just want these children to be happy and to live in peace.”

These are the simple words from Alhaga Misk, a 55-year-old grandmother who lives with her four grandchildren in a displaced persons camp in Ibb Governorate.

I met her and the children on a recent visit to Ibb. When she introduced herself and her four grandchildren, Misk explained how they had been her responsibility since their father disappeared five years ago. Their mother was visiting relatives in a nearby village and could not return safely due to the conflict. She said the frightened children held her tightly and cried because of the non-stop sounds of war. The airstrikes were targeting a military camp not too far from their home and that was what made her decide to get the children out of the village and to a safer place.

“We traveled by foot and stayed with generous people who took us in overnight,” she explains. “We finally reached Ibb, and searched for a camp. After three days of travel, we were very hungry, thirsty and tired. Our feet were worn out. I noticed a coffee shop and walked up to ask for water for the children, but the owner replied, “Where is the money? No water for you.”

“As I walked away, tears streaming down my cheeks, a young man approached us and asked what had happened,” she recounts. “He told us to wait and, moments later, he brought us water and a car to take us to a nearby hotel where we were given food, water and a blanket.”

I asked her about the children’s education, and why they were all in grade one, to which she replied, “I was too poor to send them to school. I was able to feed them by collecting bottles and selling them. Just last year, I got a job as a cleaner at a nearby school. Since there was a salary, I registered them at a school. However, the war has now interrupted their schooling and destroyed my hopes of giving them a basic education.”

As I listened my emotions ran high and tears filled my eyes. I asked the children what they wanted. Anatar, 10, replied in tears, “I want mom and I want to go back home.” Ragad, eight-years-old stood silent and shy. Roa’a, who is six-years-old, just smiled and exclaimed, “give me whatever you have,” while five-year-old Mohsen, said “I want cake!”

With the war still raging on, there is no hope for Misk and her grandchildren to return home soon. According to latest figures, one million people in Yemen have been uprooted from their homes by the conflict. Many of them have similar or even more horrible stories like Misk.

Rania Al-Zubairi is a Communication for Development Officer working at UNICEF Yemen

On 6 April, a large ball of fire and a large plume of smoke – resulting from an air strike that hit a military site on Faj Attan Mountain, high above Sana’a, the capital – rises skyward and begins to spread over the city below.

In April 2015 in Yemen, localized conflict among government forces, militants, tribal fighters and other parties since mid-March has spread to many parts of the country. Armed conflict has continued to intensify, and airstrikes, which began on 26 March, have affected 18 of the country’s 22 governorates. The escalating violence has taken a significant toll on civilians. By 12 April, an estimated 364 civilians had been killed and 681 had been injured. At least 77 children had also been killed and 44 had been injured. Infrastructure has also been destroyed, damaged or disrupted as a result of the fighting, including airports and bridges, power and water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) supply, as well as hospitals, educational and religious institutions, factories, farmlands and local markets. Homes are being directly affected by airstrikes and armed clashes, particularly in the south. The intense fighting has caused large-scale displacement, forcing about 150,000 people to flee their homes. Many of the displaced are believed to be staying primarily with relatives or acquaintances, and others are sheltering in schools. However, many of the most-vulnerable are unable to flee to safety. Insecurity, the closure of ports and other restrictions have significantly exacerbated humanitarian needs and hampered access and the delivery of vital aid to vulnerable communities. Food insecurity is rising, with food prices estimated at 40 per cent – and even higher in some areas. The number of people who are food insecure is now estimated at 12 million– a 13 per cent increase since the start of the crisis. Fuel, urgently needed to pump water and to maintain services at hospitals and other critical facilities facing frequent power outages, has run o

اليمن: صرخة جدة من أجل السلام

الحجة مسك مع أحفادها الأربعة

الحجة مسك مع أحفادها الأربعة

“أنا لا أريد شيئا لنفسي. كل ما أريده هو أن يكون هؤلاء الأطفال سعداء وأن يعيشوا بسلام”.

هذه هي الكلمات البسيطة التي قالتها الحاجّة مسك، جدة عمرها 55 سنة، تعيش مع أحفادها الأربعة في مخيم للنازحين في محافظة إب.

التقيت بها مع أحفادها خلال زيارتي الأخيرة إلى إب، حيث وضحت مسك عندما عرّفت عن نفسها وعن أحفادها الأربعة أنها أصبحت مسؤولة عنهم منذ أن اختفى والدهم قبل 5 سنوات. وأن والدتهم ذهبت لتزور أقاربها في قرية قريبة ولم تستطع أن تعود بسبب النزاع. قالت لي أن الأطفال مصابون بالهلع، وهم يتشبثون بها ويبكون بسبب أصوات الحرب المستمرة. كانت الغارات الجوية تستهدف المخيم العسكري القريب من منزلهم، مما دفعها إلى الخروج مع أحفادها من القرية بحثا عن مكان آمن.

توضح مسك قائلة:”سافرنا مشيا على الأقدام وكنا نقضي الليل عند من يتكرّم باستضافتنا”، وتضيف: “وصلنا أخيرا إلى إب وبحثنا عن المخيم. بعد ثلاثة أيام من الترحال كنا نشعر بالجوع والعطش والتعب. ناهيك عن أقدامنا المهترئة. انتبهت لوجود مقهى وتوجهت نحوه لأطلب ماء للأطفال، ولكن صاحب المحل رد عليّ قائلا: “أين المال؟ لن أعطيك الماء”.

وتستطرد مستذكرة: “فيما عدت أعقابي بدأت الدموع تسيل على وجنتي، وعندها اقترب منا شاب صغير واستفسر عما حصل. طلب منا أن ننتظر، وعاد بعد لحظات بالماء وبسيارة لتأخذنا إلى فندق قريب أعطونا فيه الطعام والماء وبطانية”.

عندما سألتها عن تعليم الأطفال، وعن سبب كونهم جميعا في الصف الأول، قالت مسك: “كنت أفقر من أن أرسلهم إلى المدرسة، فأنا كنت أتدبر طعامهم من خلال جمع الزجاجات الفارغة وبيعها. حصلت السنة الماضية على وظيفة كعاملة نظافة في مدرسة قريبة، وبعد أن أصبحت أتقاضى راتبا سجلتهم في المدرسة. ولكن الحرب الآن عطلت دراستهم ودمرت آمالي في تأمين تعليم أساسي لهم”.

اختلجتني مشاعر قوية وبدأت الدموع تنهمر من عيني. سألت الأطفال عما يريدونه، فرد عنتر، 10 سنوات، والدموع تملئ عينيه: “أريد أمي، أريدها أن تعود إلى المنزل”. بينما وقفت رغد، 8 سنوات، بخجل وصمت. أما رؤى، 6 سنوات، فابتسمت وقالت: “أعطني كل ما لديك، أيا كان”، بينما قال محسن، 5 سنوات، “أريد كعكة”!

ومع استمرار الحرب، لا أمل لمسك وأحفادها بالعودة إلى المنزل، فبحسب الإحصاءات الأخيرة، تم اقتلاع أكثر من مليون يمني من ديارهم بسب النزاع، وهناك الكثير من القصص المريعة كقصة مسك.


رانيا الزبيري مسؤولة الاتصال من أجل التنمية، تعمل في مكتب اليونيسف في اليمن.