UNICEF has marked the second anniversary of the Syria conflict with a chilling new report detailing the effects of two years of civil conflict on children. The report, Syria’s Children: A Lost Generation is a horrid reminder of the basic fact of most war: children suffer first, and suffer the most.
The numbers are staggering. There are 4 million in need of immediate humanitarian assistance inside of Syria, 1.84 million of whom are children and 536,000 of whom are under 5 years old. There have been over 1 million refugees fleeing Syria, half of whom are children. These are children who are missing school; missing regular vaccines like measles and polio vaccines; suffering from hunger and stunting; and building mental trauma that can last a lifetime.
The crisis in Syria is a children’s crisis. Yet, for all our talk about helping suffering children the international humanitarian response has been truly pathetic. UNICEF has appealed for more than $195 million to meet the humanitarian needs of children and women affected by the crisis in Syria, Jordan, Lebanon Turkey, Iraq and Egypt until the end of June. So far, it has received only 20% from that appeal.
In all, humanitarian groups like the World Food Program, the UN Refugee Agency and others who provide on-the-ground assistance need $1.5 billion through June. So far, only $312 million has been actually contributed to the consolidated humanitarian appeal. That nearly 80% gap means hundreds of thousands of children who would otherwise be given food, sanitary toilets and clean water, medicine and the like are on their own.
UNICEF is treated like a charity by its member states–they donate what they want, when they want. When a crisis like this hits, UNICEF must go hat-in-hand to donors asking for money to mount a humanitarian response. You would think that a headline grabbing crisis like Syria would mean a fully funded humanitarian response. Alas, rhetoric has not quite caught up with action. That stinginess means we may be faced with an entire generation of children lost to this conflict.