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Millions of Iraqi Children in Dire Straits

FILE - Iraqi children, most of them internally displaced persons, wait in line for free food being distributed at a mosque in Baghdad, Iraq, June 23, 2015.

The U.N. Children’s Fund reports millions of Iraqi children displaced by violence are in desperate straits. UNICEF says growing violence in this war-torn country is putting children’s lives at risk and stripping them of essential life-saving assistance.

More than one year has passed since the so-called Islamic State (IS) began a military offensive in northern Iraq, ushering in a period of widespread violence, which continues.

The United Nations reports more than three million people have been displaced since the start of 2014, most as a result of IS success in capturing Iraqi cities.

U.N. humanitarian agencies estimate more than eight million Iraqis are in need of life-saving assistance, a number that could reach 10 million by the end of the year.

Acting U.N. Children’s Fund Representative in Iraq, Colin MacIness, calls the speed and scope of this crisis breathtaking.

Speaking by telephone from Erbil, he says children are suffering most from the upheaval in their lives.

“In one year’s time, we have seen a 400 percent increase of the gravest violations against children. These grave violations are the maiming of children, the abduction of children, the attacking of the basic services that these children would otherwise receive. For those children who are not in school, for those families who do not have services, the situation is getting much worse,” says he.

‘Desperate situation’

MacIness says the widespread violence and subsequent displacement of millions of people has resulted in the collapse of health care systems, the collapse of the country’s educational system and a collapse in the government’s public safety net.

“For children, specifically, this is a desperate situation. This year’s school year alone saw 650,000 children with no schooling whatsoever. Over three million children had their school year affected severely and did not attend a regular school cycle. For families, even access to basic items can be severe,” says he.

UNICEF representative MacInnes notes nearly 3,000 people a week are fleeing Anbar province. He says these people require water, hygiene, basic shelter and food. He warns their needs may not be met because U.N. agencies are suffering from a severe funding shortage.

MacInnes adds current water supplies will run out in about three weeks unless more money is received to replenish these stocks. He notes donors have provided only 20 percent of the $48 million needed for U.N. humanitarian operations until the end of the year.