More must be done to help the millions of children and women whose lives are being impacted by conflict, natural disasters and other humanitarian crises including epidemics and hunger, UNICEF said on occasion of the launch of this year’s Humanitarian Action Report (HAR). Speaking at the launch press conference, UNICEF Executive Director Ann M. Veneman requested more than one billion dollars to provide women and children in 36 countries with lifesaving assistance – an increase of some 17 per cent compared to last year’s appeal.
“In these times, it is the most vulnerable who often suffer the most,” Veneman said. “We cannot allow these people to starve, to be left without health care, to be left without the most basic necessities to live. It is very important for governments, private sector donors and foundations to keep in mind how critical it is to keep humanitarian work ongoing.”
The additional funding is primarily needed for ongoing humanitarian situations in Africa. Five countries – Sudan, Democratic Republic of Congo, Somalia, Uganda and Zimbabwe – will receive more than half of the funds requested.
Conflict in Gaza
Launching the report alongside Veneman was UNICEF’s Regional Director for the Middle East and North Africa Sigrid Kaag, who has been actively engaged in addressing the unfolding situation in Gaza. Countries in her region that are included in the report are Yemen, Sudan, Iraq, Djibouti and Occupied Palestinian Territory.
Kaag spoke about how devastating an impact the recent conflict in Gaza has had on women and children, where hundreds were killed in less than a month.
"UNICEF is now expanding its work in Gaza,” said Kaag. “The most important thing is to get the children back to school as soon as possible. It's an investment in the future and in the children of Gaza."
High food prices
This year’s HAR highlights two additional challenges facing vulnerable populations - high food prices and climate change.
A majority of the countries included in the HAR have been negatively affected by rising food prices, aggravating the nutritional well-being of children and women and increasing their vulnerability.
“One of the things that UNICEF has been proactive in discussing in the food crisis has been the issue of nutrition insecurity,” explained Veneman. “It is not just about having enough calories, but enough nutrients. If a child under the age of two does not get enough nutrition in his or her early years, there are studies that show that the ability of that child to learn in school and therefore earn as an adult will be impacted throughout life. Therefore, the issue of food has to be taken seriously.”
Resorting to 'extreme measures'
In 2007, an estimated 850 million people suffered from under-nutrition. That number has now risen to nearly 950 million. Between May 2007 and May 2008, the food price index rose by 50 per cent, making it impossible for many families to afford basic foods for their children.
While the immediate impact of higher food prices is obvious – rendering children vulnerable to starvation and disease – its influence does not stop there. Higher food prices also increase the vulnerability of children in protracted conflicts caused by political disasters and HIV/AIDS.
When families can’t afford basic food for their children they are often forced to take extreme measures, resorting to child labour and early marriage with greater frequency. At the same time, school attendance is likely to fall.
Climate change issues
Many of these same impoverished groups also bear the brunt of climate change, suffering disproportionately from the rising frequency and intensity of natural disasters.
In the report, UNICEF quotes a study that states children and women represent 65 per cent of all those who will be affected by climate related disasters every year in the next decade, of which 175 million will be children.
To meet these challenges, UNICEF recognises the importance of disaster risk-reduction measures. The organization is working with local, national and international partners to strengthen early warning, preparedness and response systems for national disasters – and thereby strengthen the resilience of vulnerable communities.
- 2009 Humanitarian Action Report
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