Tag Archives: UNICEF

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.

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Pedaleando por la educación indígena en Paraguay

En medio de senderos plagados de mosquitos, caminos llenos de barro y una naturaleza exuberante, un grupo de ciclistas conformado por distintos profesionales y personalidades de Paraguay recorrió comunidades indígenas del Chaco para conocer la realidad de los niños y niñas nativos como parte de una expedición organizada por UNICEF Paraguay.

Los participantes posan al inicio de la expedición ciclística, en la entrada de la comunidad indígena Armonía, a 400 km al norte de Asunción. © UNICEF Paraguay/2015/Brom

Los participantes posan al inicio de la expedición ciclística, en la entrada de la comunidad indígena Armonía, a 400 km al norte de Asunción. © UNICEF Paraguay/2015/Brom

Bajo la consigna ‘Cero niños fuera de la escuela’, una marcha ciclista quiso concienciar ‘in situ’ sobre la realidad de los niños y niñas que viven en el Chaco paraguayo y las dificultades que enfrentan en su día a día para llegar a la escuela, lo que en muchos casos acaba influyendo para que abandonen los estudios.

Según datos oficiales del Gobierno de Paraguay, el 7,8% de personas de entre 6 y 17 años de edad no asiste a una institución educativa de enseñanza formal en el país, es decir, unos 125.000 niños, niñas y adolescentes permanecen fuera de la escuela.

Para visibilizar esta realidad y sus causas, la expedición partió a unos 400 km al norte de Asunción, donde viven algunas de las comunidades indígenas de Paraguay. Hasta allí se trasladó el grupo de participantes conformado por periodistas, chefs, deportistas, empresarios, filósofos, médicos y entusiastas del ciclismo de aventura, entre otros perfiles.

El recorrido transitó por varias aldeas nativas del área. El encuentro central tuvo lugar en El Estribo, donde los participantes compartieron unos momentos con los líderes de la zona y conocieron sus principales preocupaciones y desafíos.

Uno de estos líderes, Gabriel Quintana, comentó que este año las familias decidieron destinar una parte del subsidio que reciben del Estado para comprar alimentos para los niños y niñas, por lo que prácticamente no se registraron deserciones escolares. “No se puede decir que los indígenas no quieren estudiar. Sí quieren. ¿Pero por qué no pueden? Por la falta de recursos”, explicó.

En el trayecto, los ciclistas pedalearon 65 kilómetros y pasaron por varias comunidades, donde fueron saludados por sus miembros, quienes los esperaban animadamente al costado del camino. “Todo el que pasaba, me saludaba. Me decía ‘¿a dónde vas?’. Y si me veían cansada, me decían ‘te falta poco’”, relató Yehimy Alison González, una conocida periodista de radio y televisión de Asunción.

Vicisitudes

Pero no todo fue alegría y camaradería en el recorrido. Varias partes de los caminos de tierra se encontraban anegadas, por lo que los ciclistas tuvieron que cruzar con esfuerzo el agua y el barro.

Todas estas dificultades les permitieron entender las vicisitudes que deben pasar diariamente niños, niñas y adultos para vivir en las duras condiciones que impone el Chaco paraguayo, donde acudir a la escuela es una difícil aventura para cualquier estudiante.

Dado que el Chaco es una zona con vegetación muy agreste, algunos de los participantes sufrieron el pinchazo de las ruedas de sus bicicletas, lo que les obligó a cambiarlas en medio de nubes de mosquitos que prácticamente eran inmunes a los repelentes de insectos.

Los caminos que atraviesan las aldeas indígenas del Chaco son de tierra y están rodeados de una vegetación agreste. © UNICEF Paraguay/2015/Villalba

Los caminos que atraviesan las aldeas indígenas del Chaco son de tierra y están rodeados de una vegetación agreste. © UNICEF Paraguay/2015/Villalba

“Yo pinché la rueda en uno de esos caminos que le llaman ‘picadas’ y quedé paralizado por unos cuatro o cinco minutos cambiando la rueda. Era impresionante la cantidad de mosquitos que tenía en todo mi cuerpo”, comentó Fernando Marín, un filósofo mexicano que trabaja en una ONG que también desarrolla proyectos sociales en las comunidades indígenas de la zona.

Pero más allá de las cuestiones de distancias y caminos intransitables, los participantes se dieron cuenta de un factor muy importante para aumentar la presencia de los niños en las aulas: la necesidad de una correcta alimentación. Como afirmaron los líderes indígenas con los que conversaron, el hambre es uno de los principales impedimentos que aleja a los estudiantes de las escuelas. La periodista Natalia Daporta -una de las participantes con gran experiencia en el área de educación- recorrió precisamente las comunidades recabando datos sobre la situación en este campo. “No recibieron hasta el momento merienda ni almuerzo escolar. Sabemos muy bien que la alimentación es muy importante para el rendimiento de los alumnos, y también para mantener a los chicos en la escuela”, indicó.

La experiencia

Al final de la jornada, la mayoría de los participantes estaban impactados con lo que habían vivido ese día y surgieron ideas para tratar de colaborar con la subsistencia de las comunidades. “Esta experiencia nos tiene que concientizar, para mí ha sido muy significativa y creo que tiene que generar una nueva cultura: que todos seamos conscientes de esos derechos que tienen los niños y el principal derecho a estudiar”, sostuvo Marín.

“La visita a las comunidades me permitió ver y sentir esas barreras invisibles que nosotros desde la ciudad no podemos percibir. Cuando uno tiene hambre, cuando uno está enfermo, cuando hay que recorrer muchísimos kilómetros para poder ir a la escuela… llegar a ella y aprender es un verdadero desafío para esos niños y esas niñas”, reflexionó la abogada María José Rivas. Tras la experiencia, ella consiguió un importante lote de medicamentos que fue enviado a El Estribo, donde no se contaba con productos médicos básicos cuando los expedicionarios la visitaron.

Nadia Cano, periodista y ciclista, posa con algunos niños y niñas de la comunidad El Estribo. © UNICEF Paraguay/2015/Villalba

Nadia Cano, periodista y ciclista, posa con algunos niños y niñas de la comunidad El Estribo. © UNICEF Paraguay/2015/Villalba

Asimismo, está previsto realizar una jornada de evaluación y sistematización de propuestas con los participantes para mejorar la situación de las comunidades indígenas de la zona. Todo esto será presentado posteriormente a las autoridades del Ministerio de Educación y Cultura del Gobierno paraguayo para contar también con su apoyo.

La expedición ‘Cero niños fuera de la escuela’ se confirmó así como una actividad no tradicional que buscó atraer la atención de diferentes tipos de personas hacia el Chaco y sus aldeas nativas, la mayoría de las cuales no siempre se encuentra en la agenda de las prioridades de las autoridades nacionales, ya sea por su lejanía geográfica como por su invisibilidad política y real.

UNICEF es una de las organizaciones que trabaja en el Chaco paraguayo, específicamente en el distrito de Tte. Manuel Irala Fernández, mediante acciones integradas que buscan desde hace dos años asegurar que niños y adolescentes se inscriban, permanezcan y aprendan en la escuela. En este sentido, apoya campañas de comunicación para sensibilizar a la comunidad educativa sobre esta problemática y fortalece al Consejo Distrital de Educación, que está integrado por representantes de la municipalidad y de la comunidad educativa. Asimismo, UNICEF apoya los sistemas escolares de agua y saneamiento y educación en higiene, la capacitación de docentes rurales e indígenas, la producción de materiales educativos en las diversas lenguas indígenas de la zona y a las organizaciones de mujeres indígenas para que incidan en las políticas educativas y en proyectos productivos.

* Diego Brom y Nadia Villalba son, respectivamente, asistente y consultora de Comunicación de UNICEF Paraguay

 

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

Children in Myanmar wash their hands with soap at a hand-washing station, while other students behind them wait their turn to use latrines.

New data cast light on poor hygiene

Children in Myanmar wash their hands with soap at a hand-washing station, while other students behind them wait their turn to use latrines.

Children in Myanmar wash their hands with soap at a hand-washing station. © UNICEF/NYHQ2012-2056/Dean

This week is World Water Week. Each year, leaders and experts meet in Stockholm to discuss global challenges relating to water. This year the conference celebrates its 25th year, with a specific focus is on water for development. There will also be lots of discussion about the broad spectrum of water issues ranging from water resources and climate change to access to the most basic of drinking water and sanitation facilities. There will be some, but all too little debate about the related topic of hygiene.

Four surprising facts on hygiene

  1. Handwashing with soap is one of the most effective interventions to reduce diarrhoea and pneumonia, two leading causes of child mortality.
  2. Research studies have suggested that very few people – approximately one in five globally – wash their hands after going to the loo. Whilst these data are limited they certainly demonstrate the scale of the challenge.
  3. Last year the Guinness World record for handwashing was won when almost 13 million students washed their hands simultaneously across over 1,300 schools in Madhya Pradesh, India.
  4. Menstrual hygiene remains a taboo in many settings – with poor knowledge and misconceptions as great a challenge as access to adequate facilities at home as well as at school. Learn more about menstrual hygiene and its impacts on women and girls in the Menstrual Hygiene Matters report.

It also happens to be the 25th anniversary of the WHO/UNICEF Joint Monitoring Programme (JMP) for Water Supply and Sanitation, whose report at the end of the Millennium Development Goals showed that 663 million people still lack an improved source of drinking water and 2.4 billion lack an improved sanitation facility.The ability to track progress on drinking water and sanitation during the last twenty-five years has helped to draw attention to people without basic services and to highlight persistent inequalities both between and within countries. Until recently, far less attention had been given to hygiene, which unlike water and sanitation, was not part of the Millennium Development Goals and has not been systematically tracked at the global level.

An adolescent girl takes part in an handwashing demonstration for a group of adolescent girls in Chowrapara, Rangpur, Bangladesh.

An adolescent girl takes part in an handwashing demonstration for a group of adolescent girls in Chowrapara, Rangpur, Bangladesh. © UNICEF/BANA2014-01296/Paul

Of the range of hygiene behaviours considered important for health, handwashing with soap is a top priority in all settings. Handwashing with soap is one of the most effective interventions to reduce diarrhoea and pneumonia, two leading causes of child mortality. But handwashing behaviours are tricky to measure – people know the “right” answer and are very likely to tell you it if you ask them directly. For that reason, the most practical approach leading to reliable measurement of handwashing is observation of the place where hands are washed and noting the presence of water and soap at that location. This lets you know whether households have the necessary tools for handwashing and provides a proxy for their behaviour. Learn more by reading the World Bank’s Water and Sanitation Program working paper: Practical Guidance for Measuring Handwashing Behavior.

The data for over 50 countries show consistently low levels of access to handwashing facilities in many countries, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa but also Southern Asia and Latin America and the Caribbean. For example, in the Democratic Republic of Congo fewer than one in ten people have access to a facility. In countries with higher coverage overall, such as Mongolia – the poorest are greatly disadvantaged: only one in ten have access compared with almost all of those in the wealthiest quintile (96%). Similarly, people living in rural areas are less likely to have access to handwashing facilities – as is the case in Afghanistan where they are only half as likely as people in urban areas. Explore the available handwashing data for yourself using the interactive dashboard on handwashing.

The great news is that hygiene is part of the new Sustainable Development Goals and is specifically mentioned together with sanitation in Target 6.2 which by 2030 seeks to ‘achieve access to adequate and equitable sanitation and hygiene for all, and end open defecation, paying special attention to the needs of women and girls and those in vulnerable situations’. UN member states still need to select an indicator for handwashing to track progress and ensure these ambitions are properly reflected.And you can join the Global Public-Private Partnership for handwashing campaign to advocate for a handwashing SDG indicator. Over the next few years, data will then continue to be collected in household surveys such as the Multiple Indicator Cluster Surveys and Demographic and Health Surveys and it will become possible to tell whether and how much the situation has improved. The data will also tell us whether the international community is giving hygiene the attention it most surely deserves.

Explore the interactive dashboard on handwashing:

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Robert Bain is a Statistical Specialist focusing on water, sanitation and hygiene in UNICEF’s Data and Analytics Section in New York.

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Tackling cholera in Haiti

A child fetches water from a local waterpoint.

A child fetches water from a local waterpoint. (c) UNICEF Haiti/2015/Walther

After recently spending 24 hours in Gonaives, Artibonite department, the link between water and health is once again engraved in my mind. The day – spent on the ground with UNICEF partner Action Against Hunger (ACF) in and around the commune of St Michel d’Attalye – illustrated the direct connection between safe water and cholera, between life and death like no infographic or report could.

Gonaives was the first place I visited after arriving in Haiti in September 2014. At the time, it was among the hotspots of the still ongoing cholera epidemic, with over 470 cases that month. Today the situation has calmed down all over the country with a 90 percent reduction in reported cases between 2014 (27,388) and 2011 (350,000). However, with an ambitious target of reaching less than 1,000 suspected cases a year (an incidence of <0.01%) to reach elimination by 2022, each confirmed cholera case is of concern.

This is particularly true in the capital Port-au-Prince and in the departments of North and Center which account for over half of all cases and where over 2,000 cases have already been observed for 2015 (nearly 6,000 in Port-au-Prince alone). In contrast, Artibonite has entered a quiet period, meaning that although cases continue to occur (an average of 55 cases a week), NGO partners can dedicate more attention to prevention and strengthening community-based response mechanisms to cholera alerts.

A group of children walk to collect water.

A group of children walk to collect water. (c) UNICEF Haiti/2015/Walther

The Haitian government and its partners, including UNICEF, implement a four-pronged approach to eliminate cholera in the country.

  • One: rapid response and investigation of all cholera alerts led by Ministry of Health emergency response teams (EMIRA) and supported by UN and NGO partners.
  • Two: complementary investments in the underlying structural causes of the epidemic, in particular access to clean drinking water and adequate sanitation.
  • Three: strengthening of epidemiological surveillance (to control an epidemic it is crucial to have timely information about the number and location of cases) and the enhancement of health services at national and local levels.
  • Four: sensitization of individuals on good hygiene practices via mass media campaigns and face-to-face community outreach activities. Whenever possible community-based interventions are prioritized

When I visited Gonaives in September 2014 cholera agents of the ACF-team were working hand-in-hand with the EMIRA and other local government agents to ensure a professional response within 48 hours after each cholera alert. Once a patient was registered at a cholera treatment center (CTC) the agents’ task was to disinfect his/her home and to establish a ‘sanitary cordon’ (‘cordon sanitaire’) around the neighboring houses of the cholera patient – usually around ten houses. The latter involves disinfection of neighboring houses if required, sensitization activities, and provision all of cholera kits that contain a month’s supply of soap, water, chlorine tablets (to disinfect drinking water) and oral rehydration salts (to compensate lost minerals in case of diarrhea) to families.

An ACF agent conduct a refresher training for community volunteers.

An ACF agent conducts a refresher training for community volunteers. (c) UNICEF Haiti/2015/Walther

To ensure quick local response capacities, ACF is now benefitting from the relative calm to conduct prevention activities and to refine a mechanism of community-based agents, which may eventually replace the need for external assistance. In high-risk areas, ACF has trained community volunteers called ‘brigadiers’, who know how to prevent cholera and what to do when a case is registered. Besides, they are in charge of keeping their communities attentive to the risk of cholera and encouraging good hygiene practices and other preventative behaviors. This approach has a triple advantage. Being themselves from the communities the brigadiers know the area by heart, they have more credibility than outsiders, and they are on site when an outbreak occurs.

Currently, the cholera epidemic in Haiti remains an emergency with the acute risk of major outbreaks. In particular the current rainy season (which will last until November) makes experts itchy. The spike in cases last November illustrates the need for ongoing vigilance and rapid response. Despite continued progress against the disease, for a large part of the population the risk of cholera remains the same as in 2010. The localized epicenters of cholera outbreaks continue to be characterized by a lack of water and sanitation infrastructure, insufficient social services, and the high mobility of populations.

To break the chain of transmission and get rid of cholera in Haiti, clean water and sanitation together with improved hygiene behaviour are the key. Today’s challenge is to break the chain of transmission and to eliminate the remaining risk, once and for all.

Cornelia Walther is the Chief of Communication at UNICEF Haiti

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.

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

Controles fronterizos, agua y los niños de Yemen

Un niño empuja un carro lleno de garrafas en Saná, la capital de Yemen.

Un niño empuja un carro lleno de garrafas en Saná, la capital de Yemen. © UNICEF/NYHQ2015-1291/Yasin

Mi trabajo consiste en garantizar que cada vez más gente consiga acceso a agua y saneamiento en Yemen, uno de los países con mayor escasez de agua del mundo. Después de llevar menos de un mes aquí, tuve que marcharme de Saná junto con otros colegas de las Naciones Unidas a causa del empeoramiento del conflicto.

Ahora se está celebrando el mes sagrado del Ramadán y he vuelto a Saná. Aunque me alegra estar de vuelta, tengo sentimientos encontrados. La ciudad agitada y llena de vida que dejé hace tan solo tres meses ahora está desierta, excepto por las colas kilométricas de coches que esperan para echar gasolina y la basura que hay amontonada en las calles. Llegamos a un control fronterizo en el que veo a un chico con un rifle que parece demasiado joven para llevar un arma. Un poco más adelante veo una fila de personas frente a una mezquita esperando para llenar sus garrafas de agua. En sus ojos se refleja la desesperación.

El conflicto de Yemen ha llevado al país al borde de una catástrofe humanitaria. Un colega lo describe como “la gota que colma el vaso”. Escuelas, hospitales, carreteras y puentes han sufrido daños, y los servicios públicos se han colapsado. Los suministros de comida, combustible y medicinas son muy escasos, y la falta de agua potable y saneamiento adecuado expone la salud de millones de personas a riesgos muy graves.

Es evidente que los yemeníes están sufriendo y que necesitan ayuda urgente, y ese es el motivo de mi regreso. Mi equipo y yo estamos trabajando a contrarreloj para proporcionar agua y kits básicos de higiene con jabón y bidones para los niños y las familias afectadas por el conflicto.

El pasado mes de abril, los ciudadanos llenaban sus bidones de agua en los grifos de la calle en Saná.

El pasado mes de abril, los ciudadanos llenaban sus bidones de agua en los grifos de la calle en Saná. © UNICEF/NYHQ2015-0870/Hamoud

Según estimaciones de las Naciones Unidas, un 80% de la población necesita asistencia humanitaria, una cifra que me pone la piel de gallina. Pero hay pequeños detalles que me alientan, como los camiones que están empezando a pasar por las calles de Saná para recoger la basura que estaba esparcida por todas partes. En cierta medida, esto ha sido posible gracias a UNICEF, que ha proporcionado combustible no solo a las autoridades locales, sino también a más de 10 ciudades de todo el país. Esto mantiene en funcionamiento las bombonas de los sistemas de agua urbanos y permite atender a millones de personas.

De vez en cuando me siento sobrepasado por las emociones. Es inevitable que mi corazón se acelere cada vez que mi cama se mueve por la noche a causa del estruendo de alguna bomba cercana. Sin embargo, lo que más me afecta es recibir noticias sobre la muerte de un miembro del equipo de nuestros aliados locales por el disparo de un francotirador mientras repartía agua en una comunidad, o del secuestro durante una semana de otra persona que construía letrinas para gente desplazada. Al mismo tiempo, se suceden historias heroicas de gente que transporta suministros y combustible para las bombas de agua por las zonas en las que se está desarrollando el conflicto más grave, unas zonas que nunca antes habían recibido ayuda.

Siento mucho respeto por todos mis colegas yemeníes que siguen poniendo sus vidas en peligro para salir a la calle a ayudar a los desplazados. Mi vuelta a Yemen me ha unido más a mi equipo. He comenzado a entender las dificultades que la gente de aquí afronta en su día a día, y eso no nos ha frenado a la hora de hacer planes dedicando todo nuestro esfuerzo. ¿Y si lográramos negociar el acceso a la recogida de los desechos sólidos en Adén, donde podría haber un brote inminente de una enfermedad? ¿Y si pudiéramos repartir kits de higiene a aquellos que se han quedado en Sadá porque no tenían medios para marcharse?

Es muy importante lograr atender a esas personas, ya que nuestro mayor temor no es que los niños de Yemen mueran por las balas o las bombas, sino por enfermedades prevenibles como la diarrea o la neumonía. Además de las vacunas y los servicios de atención médica, proporcionar agua limpia, un aseo y una pastilla de jabón puede salvar la vida de un niño. Aunque el conflicto empeore y se nos vuelva a prohibir el acceso, seguiremos intentando atender a los más necesitados. Y aún más importante: seguiremos esperando que un día termine el conflicto y la paz vuelva a los hogares de los yemeníes.

Marije Broekhuijsen trabaja en Yemen como especialista de UNICEF en Agua, Saneamiento e Higiene. Este post se escribió durante el mes de Ramadán.

Zainab [NAME CHANGED], 16, holds her hands in front of her, casting shadows on a sunlit wall, in a UNICEF-assisted transit centre for recently released former child soldiers, in the town of N’dele, capital of the northern Bamingui-Bangoran Prefecture. Wanting to avenge the death of her fiancé, Zainab joined an armed group but, once recruited, was frequently sexually abused by male soldiers. She is now recovering at the centre, where she receives basic business training to pursue her dream of owning a restaurant.

A day of rage

Friday was a particularly hard day. Work interspersed with outrage.

No, not outrage. Simple rage. Because, among other issues, we were focused on various reports of rape. The terrible rape and enslavement of women and girls in Iraq. The horrific rape of a twelve-year-old in the Central African Republic. Sexual violence against humanitarian workers. We could go on and on.

There is a “new normal” in the world: The ugly spread of conflicts and violence in every region, against which the capacity of the humanitarian response does not keep pace, despite the efforts of people and governments of good will.

Zainab [NAME CHANGED], 16, holds her hands in front of her, casting shadows on a sunlit wall, in a UNICEF-assisted transit centre for recently released former child soldiers, in the town of N’dele, capital of the northern Bamingui-Bangoran Prefecture. Wanting to avenge the death of her fiancé, Zainab joined an armed group but, once recruited, was frequently sexually abused by male soldiers. She is now recovering at the centre, where she receives basic business training to pursue her dream of owning a restaurant.

Zainab*, 16, stands in a UNICEF-assisted transit centre for recently released former child soldiers in Central African Republic. © UNICEF/NYHQ2012-0884/Sokol

But the sexual abuse of women, girls and boys in conflicts is anything but “new.” And we must no longer think of it in any way, as “normal.”

Women and girls have long been seen as one of the spoils of war. There is a reason that “pillage” is preceded by “rape” when we read of the past destruction of castles and cities by victorious armies.

In the earliest days of Rome, when the Sabines refused to provide their women as wives for the Romans, the latter simply seized them.

Even ancient religious texts, reflecting the outlook of the men who wrote them and their times, today still give the perverted a veneer of morality for their brutality. As reported by The New York Times on Thursday, those carrying out the systematic enslavement and rape of women and girls in Iraq are “justifying” their acts by texts from the Quran.

Before non-Muslims pass judgment, they should recall that the ancient texts of other religions could similarly be misused. Moses told his men after a battle, as recorded in Numbers 31:17-18: “Now therefore kill every male among the little ones, and kill every woman that hath known a man by lying with him. But all the women children, that have not known a man by lying with him, keep alive for yourselves.” In other words, enslave the virgins.

No one of any good sense and sensibility should take such passages as religious instruction or absolution for such vile acts. But such texts show that rape is not an aberration; it is the most outrageous result of the historic lens through which men have seen women — as possessions.

The ancient code of conduct for Hindus, the Manusmriti, repeatedly views women in this way. For example, “Pita rakhshati …..” — 9/3. “Since women are not capable of living independently she is to be kept under the custody of her father as child, under her husband as a woman and under her son as widow.” Possessions with which he/they can do as they please. An attitude that can have terrible consequences.

Women stand in a shelter for girls and women who have endured sexual and gender-based violence, in Mogadishu, Somalia.

Women stand in a shelter for girls and women who have endured sexual and gender-based violence, in Mogadishu, Somalia. © UNICEF/NYHQ2012-0712/Holt

Consider this one vile statistic from the United Nations: Worldwide, it is estimated that one in five women will become a victim of rape or attempted rape in her lifetime.

The hard fact is that we don’t have hard facts about the numbers of women and children suffering sexual violence in conflicts. It is certainly many more than one in five.

It is estimated that over 200,000 women have suffered from sexual violence in the Democratic Republic of Congo since armed conflict began there. Somewhere between 250,000 and 500,000 women were reportedly raped during the 1994 genocide in Rwanda. In Bosnia, at least 20,000 women are believed to have been raped or suffered sexual violence during that conflict, although the true number will probably never be known. It is hard to even find an estimate of the women and girls raped in Darfur. A partial list of a global horror.

Women and girls are not only seen as the spoils of war and conflict, but their rape has been used as an instrument of war to terrorize populations and enemies into surrender and submission. They become the particular victims of genocide.

So on Friday, as we worked on speeding up our internal reporting procedures at UNICEF — both about alleged cases of sexual violence and about the work our colleagues in the field are doing to help care for the victims — we felt again our rage. Not only at how so many women and children are violated. But, at how, after so many centuries, we human beings continue to violate our own best hopes for ourselves.

In the end, while we in the United Nations — and many others — struggle with complex legal issues and procedural efficiencies, what matters most is that all of us avoid the moral numbness that can come with the statistics and stories of sexual abuse — and feel, instead, a rage for action.

Anthony Lake is Executive Director of UNICEF. Geeta Rao Gupta is a Deputy Executive Director of UNICEF.

This blog post was published by The Huffington Post on 17 August 2015.

*Name has been changed to protect identity.

Women stand in a shelter for girls and women who have endured sexual and gender-based violence, in Mogadishu, Somalia.

Un día de rabia

El viernes fue un día especialmente duro. El trabajo se mezcló con un sentimiento de indignación.

En realidad no era indignación, sino más bien rabia. Porque, entre otras cosas, nos centramos en varios informes sobre violaciones. Las terribles violaciones y la esclavitud a la que se somete a las mujeres y las niñas en Iraq. La terrible violación de una niña de 12 años en la República Centroafricana. La violencia sexual contra los trabajadores humanitarios. Y podríamos seguir con una larga lista.

Hay una “nueva costumbre” en el mundo: los conflictos y la violencia se están extendiendo, y la capacidad de la respuesta humanitaria es incapaz de alcanzar su ritmo a pesar de los esfuerzos de la gente y de los gobiernos de buena voluntad.

Zainab [NOMBRE CAMBIADO], de 16 años, coloca las manos para crear sombras en una pared iluminada por el sol, en un centro de tránsito asistido por UNICEF para niños ex-soldados que acaban de ser liberados. Se encuentra en la ciudad de N’dele, capital de la Prefectura de Bamingui-Bagoran, al norte de la República. Con la intención de vengarse de la muerte de su prometido, Zainab se unió a un grupo armado, pero una vez fue reclutada empezó a sufrir abusos sexuales por parte de los soldados. Ahora se recupera en este centro, donde además recibe formación básica de negocios para tratar de alcanzar su sueño de regentar un restaurante.

Zainab*, de 16 años, en el centro de tránsito asistido por UNICEF para niños ex-soldados recién liberados de la República Centroafricana © UNICEF/NYHQ2012-0884/Sokol

Sin embargo, el abuso sexual a mujeres, niñas y niños en conflictos no tiene nada de “nuevo”. Y, por supuesto, no podemos considerarlo una “costumbre”.

Hace tiempo que las mujeres y las niñas se consideran uno de los botines de la guerra. Si leemos acerca de la destrucción de los castillos y las ciudades antiguas por parte de los ejércitos victoriosos, encontramos una razón por la que el “botín” va precedido de la “violación”.

A principios de la era romana, cuando los sabinos se negaron a entregar a sus mujeres como esposas a los romanos, estos las capturaron.

De hecho, los textos religiosos antiguos, que reflejan la visión de sus autores y de la época, todavía sirven a los más pervertidos como una justificación de moralidad para la brutalidad de sus actos. Como informaba el New York Times el jueves, aquellos que esclavizan y violan a mujeres y niñas en Iraq de manera sistemática “justifican” sus actos con los textos del Corán.

Antes de que aquellos que no son musulmanes juzguen a esta religión, deberían recordar que los textos antiguos de otras religiones también podrían utilizarse con este fin. Según los Números 31:17-18, Moisés dijo a sus hombres después de una batalla: “Matad, pues, ahora a todos los varones de entre los niños; matad también a toda mujer que haya conocido varón carnalmente. Pero a todas las niñas entre las mujeres, que no hayan conocido varón, las dejaréis con vida”. En otras palabras, esclavizad a las vírgenes.

Nadie en su sano juicio debería tomarse esos pasajes como una instrucción religiosa o absolución de unos actos tan crueles. Pero esos textos muestran que la violación no es una aberración; es el resultado más atroz del prisma que han utilizado los hombres a lo largo de la historia para considerar a las mujeres como algo que les pertenece.

En el antiguo código de conducta de los hindúes, las Leyes de Manu, se muestra a la mujer de esta forma en repetidas ocasiones. Por ejemplo, “Pita rakhshati…” — 9/3. “Las mujeres no son capaces de vivir solas, y por ello deben estar bajo custodia: la de su padre, cuando son niñas; la de su marido, cuando son mujeres; y la de su hijo, cuando son viudas”. De modo que se tratan como objetos que los hombres pueden utilizar a su antojo. Una actitud que puede derivar en consecuencias terribles.

Unas mujeres en el refugio para mujeres y niñas que han sufrido violencia sexual y de género en Mogadiscio, Somalia.

Unas mujeres en el refugio para mujeres y niñas que han sufrido violencia sexual y de género en Mogadiscio, Somalia. © UNICEF/NYHQ2012-0712/Holt

Preste atención a esta cruel estadística de las Naciones Unidas: se calcula que una de cada cinco mujeres de todo el mundo será víctima de violaciones o de intentos de violaciones en algún momento de su vida.

La cruda realidad es que no tenemos cifras exactas de las mujeres y niñas que sufren violencia sexual durante los conflictos, pero no hay duda de que son más de una de cada cinco.

Se calcula que más de 200.000 mujeres han sufrido violencia sexual en la República Democrática del Congo desde que comenzó el conflicto armado. Además, durante el genocidio de Ruanda de 1994, se denunciaron entre 250.000 y 500.000 violaciones a mujeres. En Bosnia, se estima que al menos 20.000 mujeres han sido violadas o han sufrido violencia sexual durante ese conflicto, aunque es posible que nunca se sepa el número exacto. Es difícil hacer una estimación de las mujeres y niñas violadas en Darfur. Y esto es solo una parte de la terrible lista de un horror mundial.

Las mujeres y las niñas no solo se consideran los botines de la guerra y del conflicto, sino que además sus violaciones se utilizan como instrumento de guerra para aterrorizar a la población y a los enemigos y conseguir su sumisión y su rendición. Por ello, siempre son víctimas del genocidio.

Así, el viernes, mientras trabajábamos para acelerar los procedimientos internos relativos a informes (de supuestos casos de violencia sexual y del trabajo que nuestros colegas realizan en el terreno para ayudar a las víctimas), sentimos rabia una vez más. No solo por ver cómo muchas mujeres y niñas siguen sufriendo violaciones, sino también porque, después de tantos siglos, los seres humanos seguimos violando nuestras mejores esperanzas.

Al final, mientras en las Naciones Unidas –como en muchas otras instituciones– nos enfrentamos a asuntos legales y procedimientos complejos, lo que más nos preocupa es conseguir que en lugar de producir aturdimiento moral, las estadísticas y los testimonios de abuso sexual produzcan un sentimiento de indignación que nos impulsen a actuar.

Anthony Lake es el Director Ejecutivo de UNICEF. Geeta Rao Gupta es Directora Ejecutiva Adjunta de UNICEF.

Esta historia se publicó en el Huffington Post  el 17 de agosto de 2015.

*El nombre se ha cambiado para preservar su identidad.

©UNICEFMéxico/MauricioRamos

#TuVozCuenta con U-Report México

¿Se imaginan qué increíble sería si pudiéramos preguntarle a los jóvenes sobre sus intereses, opiniones y necesidades en los lugares donde viven, y que pudiéramos obtener y analizar esa información en tiempo real? Imagínense que estuviéramos diseñando un programa que ayudara a los jóvenes a conseguir empleo después de sus estudios. Bueno, pues para ello, no sólo requeriríamos información estadística y diagnósticos de la situación de la educación y el mercado laboral; sino que también necesitaríamos conversar con muchos jóvenes para entender sus aspiraciones e ideales, temores y angustias, entender los retos a los que se enfrentan y la presión que muchas veces sentimos. De esta forma, podríamos lograr empatía con sus experiencias, pensamientos y emociones; y así diseñar un programa que los entienda y apoye de la mejor forma posible.

©UNICEFMéxico/MauricioRamos

©UNICEFMéxico/MauricioRamos

Este proceso de consulta llevaría muchísimo tiempo, por lo que en muchas ocasiones, los programas se diseñan tomando sólo en cuenta la información de diagnósticos y estudios hechos por especialistas. Lamentablemente, por falta de tiempo, muy pocas veces se les pregunta a los jóvenes qué es lo que quieren, cómo lo quieren y por qué lo quieren así.

El pasado jueves 13 de agosto, como parte de las celebraciones del Día Internacional de la Juventud, compartimos con cientos de jóvenes la buena noticia de que U-Report había llegado a México. Con U-Report los jóvenes de más de 17 países en el mundo están utilizando la misma tecnología que usan para comunicarse entre amigos para participar con sus ideas y opiniones en el desarrollo de sus comunidades y de sus países.

©UNICEFMéxico/LuisCedeño

©UNICEFMéxico/LuisCedeño

U-Report permite a UNICEF, y a sus aliados en México, consultar en tiempo real a los jóvenes sobre lo que sucede en sus comunidades, los servicios que reciben, los temas públicos que son de su interés, sus necesidades y expectativas. Esta valiosa información se recibe, analiza y procesa en segundos, para generar un reporte que es entregado a las personas que están tomando las decisiones públicas que tienen efecto en la vida de todos los jóvenes mexicanos. De esta forma, U-Report ayuda a tomar decisiones más informadas, a diseñar servicios y programas públicos que tomen en cuenta la visión, opiniones e intereses de los jóvenes.

Ese jueves, el auditorio se llenó del entusiasmo de cientos de personas que participaron con novedosas ideas para enfrentar los retos en educación, salud, bienestar económico y convivencia social que viven los jóvenes en México. A partir de ese momento, cientos de jóvenes se hicieron U-Reporters y serán embajadores de este movimiento por el cual nuestra voz adquiere el súper poder de unirse a millones más para que sea escuchada fuerte y clara donde quiera que sea.

©UNICEFMéxico/LuisCedeño

©UNICEFMéxico/LuisCedeño

Jaime Archundia es Responsable de Innovación de UNICEF México

Únete a U-Report México 

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