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UNICEF Says School Will Help Displaced Children in Georgia

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The United Nations Children's Fund  says more attention must be paid to the educational, psychological and physical needs of children who are among the main victims of the war that erupted between Georgia and Russia just over a week ago.  Lisa Schlein reports for VOA from Geneva.

According to estimates by the Georgian and Russian governments, nearly 120,000 people have been displaced in Georgia and the breakaway region of South Ossetia by the recent conflict with Russia.  The UN Children's Fund says a large proportion of those who fled their homes are women and children.

No exact figures are available on civilians killed and wounded in the conflict.  But aid agencies agree many women and children are certain to figure among the casualties.  

UNICEF special advisor on Central European countries, Gordon Alexander, says lack of access and safety on the ground is hampering the ability of aid agencies to help those in need.

He says homeless people are being sheltered in centers that are ill equipped to deal with their needs.

"These are kindergartens, places for IDPs [internally displaced people]," said Alexander. "The actual physical infrastructure of these places is where our assessment teams are saying is not in good shape.  Sanitation issues, water supply, electricity - it is a big issue.  So, making sure that all of these 170 centers are equipped well, I think will be one of the concerns that we are doing there."

Alexander says UNICEF is involved in immediate relief action, but the agency also is planning for the next stage.  He says UNICEF is thinking about the coming winter and what will need to be done should the affects of the conflict continue for the long term.

He says many children are traumatized by the war and taking care of their psychological, as well as physical, needs is of utmost importance.  He says education plays an important role in the healing process.

"We are also moving towards a new school year in the area and UNICEF would like to set a goal to try to get every displaced child back into school by the new school year," said Alexander. "It is creating that sense of normalcy that we really need to have.  It is an important haven, not only for the children, but also for parents.  I think getting that going, but also getting the social support and interaction is also a major concern."  

School in Georgia and Russia begins in early September.  Alexander says it will be problematic to find enough classroom space since many kindergartens are being used to house displaced people.  

He says UNICEF soon will be airlifting relief supplies to Georgia.  It will include bottled water, hygiene kits, hundreds of schools in a box and recreational kits for children.

 

 

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