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UNICEF: worsening situation for Iraqi children


UNICEF warns of worsening situation for children in Iraq

Urges warring parties to ensure secure humanitarian access to children under siege

AMMAN/ NEW YORK - UNICEF issued a warning today that despite significant progress in humanitarian cross-border trucking operations, early attempts by UNICEF to reach Iraqi children and women were being significantly hampered by what it called "a residue of fear and chaos."

Praising the courage of civilian contract drivers venturing into recently fought-over towns and cities to deliver aid, the UNICEF Executive Director Carol Bellamy said that all forces which controlled territory were also obliged to provide secure access to civilian populations.

"When UNICEF talks about access, we mean ensuring that humanitarian aid reaches the children and women who need it most," said Bellamy. "That means that we have to be able to physically get to a town, get to those who most urgently need aid and deliver it in a way that ensures it's being used by those weakened and besieged by thirst, fear and hunger. Although we're beginning to reach many places, we're encountering a residue of fear and chaos."

In the months prior to the outbreak of the war in Iraq, UNICEF positioned thousands of tonnes of life-saving supplies both inside the country, and in neighbouring countries, in readiness for a rapid emergency distribution to Iraqis. These included high-protein biscuits for malnourished children, therapeutic milk, water purification tablets and essential medicines.

In recent days, as the trucking operation to replenish water supplies in southern Iraq has gained momentum, UNICEF drivers have reported large-scale looting of schools and government facilities, in areas through which coalition forces have passed.

"Even conflicts are guided by rules and humanitarian conventions. It is the responsibility of those who retain effective control of a territory to ensure that there is order and that there is secure access for the delivery of life-saving humanitarian aid," said Bellamy.

The UNICEF Representative to Iraq, Mr. Carel de Rooy, said that the humanitarian picture being flashed across television screens is stark, dire and worrying.

"Before this conflict took place, UNICEF had networks and systems inside Iraq that helped us achieve our life-saving vaccination campaigns, nutrition campaigns and work in education," said De Rooy. "What is horribly worrying about the looting, chaos and breakdown of order is that those systems we counted on, may completely disappear or collapse."

De Rooy added that as of the beginning of this week, the UNICEF Iraq appeal has received just one fifth of its funding.

"This is obviously, and simply, not enough. We have an emergency on our hands now," he said. "Our actions in the next few weeks will determine the physical and mental well-being of a generation of Iraqi children."


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