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War Taking Its Toll on Iraqi Children

The U.N. Children's Fund says an estimated two-million children in Iraq are facing poor nutrition, disease and interrupted education. UNICEF says Iraqi children are paying too high a price for a war that was none of their doing. Lisa Schlein reports for VOA from Geneva.

The U.N. Children's Fund says children in Kurdistan in northern Iraq are thriving and the situation in southern Iraq has become more stable. It says security has improved in Baghdad and the surrounding areas since the so-called troop surge began in February.

But, UNICEF spokeswoman, Claire Hajaj, tells VOA Iraq is still a volatile and dangerous place.

"Better security does not mean secure. And, the second thing is as we see communities begin to open up because of greater access, we are going to see the needs that may have been hidden for a long time," said Hajaj. "Iraq is going to need more help as security increases, not less because there are needs right now that are hidden because simply people cannot get there and the violence keeps them hidden."

UNICEF says Iraqi children frequently were caught in the crossfire of conflict in 2007. It reports hundreds of children lost their lives or were injured by violence and many more had their main family wage earner kidnapped or killed.

More than one million people are displaced in Iraq. About one half of them are children. UNICEF says an average of 25,000 children a month are displaced by violence or intimidation. By the end of this year, it says about 75,000 children were living in camps or temporary shelters.

Hajaj says a psychological assessment conducted earlier this year in Baghdad gives some indication as to the toll war is having on children.

"It came back saying that a third of the children in Baghdad were showing the signs that any parent would recognize as distress - bed wetting, anxiety, acting out violence, difficulty concentrating at school," added Hajaj. "And, we hear from parents and from teachers that children are often feeling the strains more and more. And, their poor parents often are, themselves, so stressed they find it hard to give the help that is needed."

Hajaj says organizations like UNICEF are trying hard to bring a touch of normality back into these children's lives. She says restoring a school, creating a playground, providing a good water supply are some activities that show families they are not forgotten. It shows them some kind of lifeline is available to them.

Hajaj says Iraq has one of the highest maternal mortality rates in the world. And, one-fifth of children under five are stunted. She says this means the children have not been getting the food and nutrition they need to grow as they should.

UNICEF says it is easier now to deliver aid. It says it has received only $40 million towards its $144 million appeal for Iraq this year. The children's agency urges donors to provide more money to enable its staff to reach the most vulnerable with badly needed assistance.