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UNICEF Plans to Help Iraqi Children After War Ends - 2003-03-28

The United Nations children's fund official responsible for Iraq says the U.N. relief organization is planning to provide aid to large numbers of Iraqi children as soon as the war has ended.

The UNICEF official for Iraq, Corel de Rooy, says there are almost six million children of primary school age in Iraq. He believes at least 10 percent of them will need counseling after the war.

Speaking to reporters Friday, Mr. de Rooy recounted how a missile attack in Baghdad affected the son of a UNICEF staffer. "His nine-year-old son was in shock, he was crying for three, four hours in a row," he said. "They had to sedate this child so that the child could sleep and stop crying. This is one example. We do not know what we will find when we come back. We suspect it will be a major issue of traumatized children."

Mr. de Rooy was evacuated from Iraq before the war along with all other international aid workers. He now is based in Amman, Jordan. He says the agency has 200 local staff members still working in the country.

He says UNICEF has a lot of experience from previous conflicts and natural disasters in providing psychological care for children. He notes the cost of rehabilitating each child is about $20.

Another crucial issue is nutrition. Mr. de Rooy says only five weeks of food stocks are left in Iraq and if the food life line is not quickly restarted, there will be a major crisis. "Everyone in Iraq has a right for a food basket [food rations] on a monthly basis," said Mr. de Rooy. "Eighty percent of the population depends heavily on it. Sixty percent of the population depends entirely, I repeat, entirely on this food basket for survival. So if there were to be a break in this food supply, then we can expect dire consequences, particularly for children under five. Malnutrition rates would skyrocket, pregnant women would suffer tremendously. "

Mr. de Rooy says UNICEF has high protein biscuits and milk, medicine and water supplies stored in countries bordering Iraq. He says the agency is prepared to resume operations in Iraq as soon as the United Nations gives aid workers the green light to return.