The U.N. Children's Fund says Iraqi children are caught up in a rapidly worsening humanitarian tragedy. UNICEF says it urgently needs $42 million to provide essential services over the next six months for nearly five million children displaced within Iraq and some 300,000 children who have taken refuge in neighboring Syria and Jordan. Lisa Schlein reports for VOA from Geneva.
The situation of Iraqi children has not been great for decades. But, UNICEF says it is getting worse. It says a turning point occurred after last year's bombing of the Samarra mosque.
UNICEF Special Representative for Iraq, Roger Wright, says sectarian violence initiated a new wave of displacement within and outside the country.
"That is why at this particular time, we are launching this six-month immediate needs assessment to deal with the affects and to contain them," he said. "Not only to protect children for the future of Iraq. But, to invest in them because without such an investment, I really see a fairly bleak future for Iraq."
Since the war broke out in 2003, UNICEF says nearly 15 percent of Iraq's population or four million people have fled their homes, half of them children. It says many are seeking refuge in communities that already are poor or hit by violence. This is putting added pressure on already weakened social services.
It says those seeking refuge outside Iraq face an uncertain future. In both Syria and Jordan, it says complications over residency status may keep many from seeking health care or enrolling children in school.
In Iraq's hot spots, it says insecurity has closed schools and eroded access to quality care in health facilities and hospitals. This is particularly true in Baghdad, which has the highest tally of displaced people.
Wright says there has been an increase in street children. He says these children are vulnerable to exploitation for labor, prostitution and substance abuse.
"There has been unfortunately an increase in abandoned children who are then sucked into the consequences, the bad habits, the gangs, the criminality which is apparently on the increase in Baghdad in particular," he said.
Last week, UNICEF reported five early cases of cholera among children under 12 in the city of Najaf. The agency warns cholera and diarrhea could become a serious problem in the hot summer months because of the lack of safe water and poor sanitation. It says many children could die.
UNICEF says money from the appeal will help provide life-saving vaccines, food, safe water and sanitation, psychological counseling and education for children in Iraq. It will help the governments of Syria and Jordan provide better health care and schooling for Iraqi refugee children.