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UNICEF Launches Major Appeal for Children in 'Forgotten' Countries

  • Lisa Schlein

The United Nations Children's Fund, UNICEF, is appealing for more than $760 million to help millions of children struggling to survive conflicts and other emergencies in countries around the world. In its annual Humanitarian Action Report, UNICEF outlines the concerns and needs of children in so-called forgotten emergencies in 33 crisis countries.

UNICEF praises what it calls the "tsunami spirit." It appeals to donors to show the same kind of compassion and generous response to the world's forgotten emergencies as they have shown to the victims of East Asia's catastrophic tsunami. It says the speedy response of the international community saved many children's lives.

The Head of UNICEF's Emergency Operations, Daniel Toole, says all humanitarian crises carry a child's face.

"In humanitarian crises, schools close. In humanitarian crises, children are traumatized," Mr. Toole explained. "In humanitarian crises, children bear the brunt. They are traumatized, they are recruited into armies and it is they who suffer from the measles outbreaks, the dysentery, etc., much more than the adults."

During emergencies, UNICEF reports, children are especially vulnerable to disease, malnutrition and violence. In the last decade, it says more than two million children have died as a direct result of armed conflict, and more than three times that number have been permanently disabled or seriously injured.

UNICEF says most of the forgotten emergencies are in Africa. They include Uganda, Somalia, Burundi, and Sierra Leone. Others include Afghanistan, Colombia and Haiti.

It notes the continuing conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo has taken the lives of over three million people in just five years. And, it says the crisis in northern Uganda, where thousands of children have been abducted by the rebel Lord's Resistance Army, is one of the worst emergencies facing children anywhere.

Mr. Toole says donors tend to be reluctant to assist countries involved in long-standing wars.

"If we look at the DRC, if we look at Liberia, if we look at Burundi or Haiti - they are countries that have had long-standing conflict, that have had long-standing humanitarian requirements," he said. "And, if you will, there is donor fatigue. There is frustration at lack of progress. I think the most exciting issue for 2005 is actually that in some of those countries now we have peace agreements. We have in Sudan, in Afghanistan, in Liberia, in Burundi an opportunity to build peace. And, what we are stressing is that when we have those agreements, we have to come in quite quickly because the population needs to start to see visible change."

In all emergencies, Mr. Toole says UNICEF's priority is the survival of children. That means providing them with health care, water and sanitation and adequate nutrition. He says UNICEF also provides protection to children who have been abandoned or separated from their families. He says the agency helps children who were forced to serve in government or rebel armies or were otherwise exploited and abused.

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