Nearly $4 billion needed to protect 41 million children from conflict and disaster

Tens of millions of children living through conflict, disaster and other emergencies in dozens of countries urgently need protection, UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) said on Tuesday, in an appeal for $3.9 billion to support its humanitarian work around the world.

Speaking in Geneva, the agency’s Director of Emergency Operations, Manuel Fontaine, warned that conflict is at a 30-year high: “There’s never been as much conflict in the world in the past 30 years as this year, so it is obviously a particular threat,” he said.

Amid countless reports of deadly attacks on civilians and places of shelter – both of which are prohibited under international law – Mr. Fontaine insisted that the long-held notion that children should be protected above all others is also being undermined.

He said it was “being accepted as a new normal of attacks on schools and hospitals and detention of children,” adding that increasingly, “children are being seen not only as victims, when they’ve been actually recruited by an armed group or used by a particular armed group, but also as a perpetrator and detained once they’ve been released by an armed group.”

A total of 59 countries are to benefit from UNICEF’s Humanitarian Action for Children 2019 appeal, as the agency pursues its goal of providing 41 million children with safe water, food, education, health and protection.

Syria still number one concern

Child protection funding amounting to $385 million includes more than $120 million for youngsters affected by the Syria crisis, whose needs are estimated at $904 million – the largest part of UNICEF’s overall appeal.

“Nearly eight years after the conflict broke out, we still have 2.5 million Syrian children living as refugees in Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey where demand for basic services such as health and education outstrip the capacity of institutions and infrastructure to actually respond,” Mr. Fontaine explained, noting that aid was needed for Syrian refugees and host communities.

Asked if he expected a significant number of Syrian families to return to the country, the UNICEF official replied that such a development was likely premature.

“There might be cases of some families, some children who decide they want to go back and we accompany them,” he said. “I think it’s a bit early right now to see how that’s going to happen in practice.”

Yemen: Two million children need food support

Needs in Yemen represent UNICEF’s second largest individual appeal, at just over $542 million, as a fragile and as-yet unimplemented ceasefire deal between Houthi militants and the internationally recognised government over the Red Sea port of Hudaydah continues to cause serious concern among humanitarians.

Nearly four years since conflict escalated, more than 22 million people need humanitarian assistance, including two million Yemeni children who will require food assistance this year. “Projections from 2019 are that nearly 400,000 children will suffer from life-threatening severe acute malnutrition in Yemen during the course of the year,” Mr. Fontaine warned.

 

Other emergency situations include the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), a vast country facing a significant escalation of violence and armed conflict linked to terrible rights abuses. An ongoing outbreak of deadly Ebola virus in the east of the country has made matters worse.

“Violations against children include forced recruitment by armed groups and rampant sexual abuse,” the UNICEF official explained. “The insecurity has also seriously hindered the response to the Ebola outbreak in North Kivu and Ituri and aggravated disastrous malnutrition conditions across the country.”

According to the UNICEF appeal, an estimated 1.4 million children – over three times the number at risk in Yemen – are projected to require lifesaving treatment for severe acute malnutrition in 2019.

Venezuela’s adolescents in dire need of protection

Turning to Venezuela, where 40 people have died in recent clashes between demonstrators and security forces, according to UN human rights office, (OHCHR), Mr. Fontaine appealed for children to be protected.

“We are very concerned about the risk of violence,” he said. “We are obviously calling on everyone to protect children in this particular moment and adolescents in particular.”

The UNICEF official confirmed that an estimated three million people have left the troubled South American country in recent years, and that the agency is “working in the neighbouring countries, in Colombia, Brazil Ecuador and other countries to help the struggling host communities receiving families and children that are crossing the border”.

‘Toxic stress’ last longer than physical wounds

Faced with such unprecedented needs, UNICEF is appealing for funding that can be allocated where it is needed most urgently, not least to under-reported emergencies including the Lake Chad region, where nearly 21 million people in Cameroon, the Central African Republic, Chad, Niger and Nigeria have been affected by ongoing conflicts.

Despite the challenges, Mr. Fontaine insisted that the agency has been successful in helping vulnerable children, not least those whose mental scars caused by the “toxic stress” of conflict often take longer than physical wounds to heal.

“At the same time, I would say we’ve also made great progress,” he insisted. “It is the behaviour of parties to conflict that actually creates this kind of situation. Should they give us more access, should they give us more ways to protect children and should they themselves respect the sanctity of the protection of children, things would actually go a lot better.”

Link between conflict and hunger worldwide, ‘all too persistent and deadly’, says new UN report

Conflict-driven hunger is getting worse, according to a snapshot of the eight places in the world with the highest number of people in need of emergency food support, and the link between them is “all too persistent and deadly” according to a new report delivered to the UN Security Council on Monday.

The new report released by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the World Food Programme (WFP) follows on from a landmark Council resolution on preventing hunger in conflict zones, adopted in May.

The situation in Afghanistan, the Central African Republic, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, South Sudan and Yemen worsened in the latter part of 2018 largely because of conflict, although Somalia, Syria and the Lake Chad Basin, saw some improvements in line with improved security. In total, around 56 million people are in need of urgent food and livelihood assistance across the eight theatres of war.

“This report clearly demonstrates the impact of armed violence on the lives and livelihoods of millions of men, women, boys and girls caught up in conflict,” wrote FAO Director-General José Graziano da Silva states in the report’s foreword.

“I would strongly encourage you to keep in mind that behind these seemingly dry statistics are real people experiencing rates of hunger that are simply unacceptable in the 21st century,” he continued.

Violence against humanitarian workers is also on the rise, sometimes forcing organizations to suspend their life-saving operations, leaving those at risk, even more vulnerable. Every single country covered in the report, saw attacks carried out on aid workers and facilities last year.

“This report shows again the tragic link between conflict and hunger and how it still pervades far too much of the world. We need better and quicker access in all conflict zones, so we can get to more of the civilians who need our help. But what the world needs most of all is an end to the wars,” wrote WFP chief David Beasley in the foreword.

The Security Council’s Resolution 2417 condemns unequivocally, starvation as a tool of war. It calls on all parties to armed conflict to comply with their obligations under International Humanitarian Law to minimize the impact of military actions on civilians, including on food production and distribution, and to allow humanitarian access in a safe and timely manner to civilians needing lifesaving food, nutritional and medical assistance.

“The millions of men, women and children going hungry as a result of armed conflict will not be reduced unless and until these fundamental principles are followed”, states the joint UN agency report.

Here’s the outlook for some of the countries in the spotlight: 

* Yemen’s three-year war is a stark demonstration of the urgent need for a cessation of hostilities to address the world’s largest food security emergency.  In its country analysis, the report states that conflicting parties disregarded the protected status of humanitarian facilities and personnel.

* The Democratic Republic of the Congo had the second highest number (13 million) of acutely food insecure people, driven by a rise in armed conflict, during the second half of 2018.

* In South Sudan, after more than five years of war, the lean season is expected to start earlier than normal, according to the report, pushing those in need of urgent support up to more than 5 million between January and March, 2019.

* In the Lake Chad basin including north-eastern Nigeria, Chad’s Lac region and Niger’s Diffa, where extremist groups are highly active, a major deterioration in food security is projected during this year’s lean season beginning in June, and three million people are expected to face acute food insecurity.

* In Afghanistan, the percentage of rural Afghans facing acute food deficits is projected to reach 47 percent (or 10.6 million people) by March if urgent life-saving assistance is not provided.

* In the Central African Republic, armed conflict remained the main driver of hunger in 2018, with 1.9 million people experiencing a severe lack of food.

 

UNAMA
War-affected Kunduz civilians in Afghanistan receive humanitarian aid.

‘Humiliation was the worst’; Holocaust survivor at UN, asks world to act with ‘empathy and compassion’

More than seven decades ago in Auschwitz, Jewish teenager Marian Turski felt he “had no name, he had nothing, but a number” tattooed on his body. Speaking on Monday, at the annual Holocaust Memorial Ceremony, at United Nations Headquarters in New York, the 92-year-old called on the world to express renewed “empathy and compassion”.
UN Photo/Loey Felipe
Mr. Marian Turski, Holocaust Survivor and Chair of the Council of the Museum of the History of Polish Jews in Warsaw speaking at the United Nations Holocaust Memorial Ceremony on 28 January 2019.

Sharing his extraordinary story, he said that the worst part of surviving the Nazi death camps was not the extreme hunger, the coldness or the deteriorating living conditions, but “the humiliation, just because you were Jewish, you were treated not like a human being, you were treated like a louse, a bed bug, like a cockroach”, he told those who had gathered to commemorate.

Mentioning conflicts going on now in Ukraine, Sudan and Yemen, Mr. Turski said that when it came to giving advice today, “the most important words are: empathy and compassion”. He highlighted the importance of “protecting our children” from all catastrophes.

UN Photo/Loey Felipe
Inge Auerbacher shares her account as a child survivor of Teresienstadt, during the annual United Nations Holocaust Remembrance Ceremony.

His story followed testimony from Inge Auerbacher, who was liberated from a different camp, on the same day as Mr. Turski. She described how in the concentration camps “life was especially hard for children, for whom the most important words in their vocabulary were potatoes, bread and soup.”

Inge was born in Germany and spent three years between seven and 10 years of age in the Terezin (Theresienstadt) concentration camp in Czechoslovakia, where only around one per cent of its 15,000 children, survived.

Lamenting the rising wave of anti-Semitism today, Ms. Auerbacher pleaded for everyone across the world to “make good choices”.

“My hope, wish, and prayer, is for every child to live in peace without hunger and prejudice. The antidote to hatred is education, no more genocides, no more anti-Semitism”, she added.

Ms. Auerbacher also wrote the words to the song “Who am I”, which was performed during the UN Holocaust Remembrance ceremony by the PS22 elementary school Chorus of Staten Island, New York.

The role of education and history was emphasized by Sara Bloomfield, Director of the powerful United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, in Washington DC, who added that “after 2000 years of various forms of anti-Semitism, it doesn’t seem to be an eradicable disease, nor does hate”.

UN Photo/Loey Felipe
Sara J. Bloomfield, Director of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, delivers her keynote speech during the annual United Nations Holocaust Remembrance Ceremony.

 

Drawing parallels between the horror of the Holocaust, and the present, Ms. Bloomfield added that it’s essential to “look back, to remember the victims lives and to remember that we failed them. We can’t fail them again by forgetting, by ignoring anti-Semitism and by not learning from our failures”, she concluded.

The International Holocaust Remembrance Day is marked each 27 January, when the notorious Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp was liberated by Allied troops, 74 years ago, in the final months of the World War Two.

Bigotry ‘moving at lightning speed’ Guterres warns, as UN marks the Holocaust

“Now more than ever, let us unite in the fight for universal values and build a world of equality for all – UN Secretary-General

Amid an “alarming increase” in anti-Semitism, International Holocaust Remembrance Day was commemorated at UN Headquarters in New York on Monday, honouring the memory of some six million Jews who perished in the Holocaust during World War Two, along with many other victims of what the UN chief called “unprecedented, calculated cruelty and horror”.

“From a deadly assault on a synagogue in the United States to the desecration of Jewish cemeteries in Europe, this centuries-old hatred is not only still strong – it is getting worse” Secretary-General António Guterres said in his commemoration message, pointing to “the proliferation of neo-Nazi groups, and attempts to rewrite history and distort the facts of the Holocaust”.

As the horrors of the Nazi concentration camps recede in time, leaving fewer and fewer Holocaust survivors, the need to be vigilant grows stronger.

Under this year’s theme: “Holocaust Remembrance: Demand and Defend Your Human Rights”, youth are being encouraged to learn valuable lessons from the Holocaust, such as acting forcefully against discrimination and defending essential democratic values.

With neo-Nazism and hate groups on the rise, together with other forms of hatred around the world, the theme also highlights the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide.

Mr. Guterres recalled the quote by former Chief Rabbi of the United Kingdom, Jonathan Sacks: “The hate that begins with Jews never ends with Jews”.

“We see bigotry moving at lightning speed across the Internet”, underscored the UN chief, pointing to “intolerance entering mainstream politics – targeting minorities, Muslims, migrants and refugees, and exploiting the anger and anxiety of a changing world”.

“Now more than ever, let us unite in the fight for universal values and build a world of equality for all” concluded the Secretary-General.

For her part, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet highlighted in a message to mark the day, that alongside millions of Jews, “the victims of the Nazi camps included hundreds of thousands of Roma and Sinti people, people with disabilities, homosexuals, prisoners of war, political dissidents and members of Resistance networks from all over occupied Europe.”

Saying that “humanity could never again be the same after this frightful crime”, she spelled out: “We must stand together against this normalization of hatred. We must push back against this slowly rising tide of anti-Semitism, xenophobia and other attempts to deprive specific categories of people of their humanity and rights”.

As part of a week of commemorative activities, a ceremony on Monday in the General Assembly Hall featured first-hand testimony from survivors, memorial prayers, musical elements and words from Sara J. Bloomfield, Director of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, who after 18 years, continues working to raise Holocaust awareness, deepen the understanding of its hard-learned lessons, confront denial and advance genocide prevention.

From the Hall, Mr. Guterres drew attention to what he called “the worst anti-Semitic attack in the history of the United States, when 11 worshippers observing Shabbat in Pittsburgh were murdered at the Tree of Life synagogue last October. “We must rise up against rising anti-Semitism”, he stressed.

In other events, an exhibition called “Beyond Duty: Diplomats Recognized as Righteous Among the Nations”, shared the unique stories of the diplomats who, serving under Nazi regimes, saved Jewish lives by providing passports, visas and travel permits for their escape.

“Only through multilateral action and cooperation can we move closer to achieving a world of safety and dignity for all people, everywhere”, Mr. Guterres said at the launch.

A presentation on a lesser-known chapter from Holocaust’s history about the haven some Jewish refugees fleeing Europe found in India was scheduled as part of the day’s events, and a second exhibition of photographs called “Bracha. A Blessing. Back to Polish Shtetls”, was unveiled, documenting the journeys taken by Jewish descendants from Poland, back to their birthplaces, to pay homage to the culture and heritage they were forced to leave behind in the form synagogues, graveyards and the graves of Tzadikim, or “the righteous people”.

For a full list of events, please click here and for some useful historical background, go here.

UN Photo/Loey Felipe
Participants at the 2019 United Nations Holocaust Remembrance Ceremony.