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UNICEF Concerned About Displaced Children in Northwest Pakistan

The U.N. Children's Fund says it is deeply concerned about the condition of thousands of children who have been displaced by conflict in northwestern Pakistan. UNICEF says children are in urgent need of health, education and other services.

The U.N. Children's Fund reports nearly half of the estimated two million people displaced by conflict in Pakistan's Swat Valley are children.

It says many are in urgent need of health and educational services, nutritional support, access to clean water and sanitation, as well as protection. It says these problems are made even more difficult by the sweltering summer heat.

UNICEF says it is particularly concerned that some 700,000 children will miss out on the coming school year. School is supposed to start in September. But, the agency says 3,700 schools may not be available for classes because they are being used to house 150,000 internally displaced people.

UNICEF spokeswoman, Veronique Taveau, says her agency has set up so-called child friendly spaces in the camps as a stopgap measure. She says these spaces have recreational and school learning equipment to help children get back to some semblance of normality.

She says children in the camps are better off than the tens of thousands of children who are living with family and friends in host communities.

"The problem we have at the moment is for us to be able to reach those families and those children that are in those communities, sometimes in remote spaces where we cannot have access," Taveau explained. "So, that is the concern we have at the moment because we know that some of those families and some of those children they are lacking almost everything like potable water, drinking water, hygiene and schooling."

Fighting between government forces and Taliban militants erupted toward the end of April. Within three weeks, about two million people had fled their homes. The speed and magnitude of the crisis surprised the government and aid agencies and has put an enormous strain of their ability to provide assistance.

About 10 percent or 200,000 of the displaced are sheltering in camps, which are providing for their essential needs. But, the vast majority or 1.8 million people are living in host communities.

UNICEF says children and families are living in cramped conditions with limited aid in these communities. It says the monsoon season will soon begin and children, many of whom are malnourished, are at great risk of contracting water borne and other diseases.

It says its humanitarian efforts are being hampered by lack of funds. It says it has raised less than a third of the $543 million needed to support 1.7 million IDPs for six months.