UNICEF seeks $3.1 bn aid for 'new generation' of crises
The UN children's agency launched a record $3.1 billion aid appeal on Thursday to help 62 million children at risk from a "new generation" of humanitarian crises.
The threats ranged from the brutal war in Syria that shows no sign of ending after nearly four years to the Ebola outbreak in west Africa and the Ukraine conflict.
"From deadly natural disasters to brutal conflicts and fast-spreading epidemics, children across the world are facing a new generation of humanitarian crises," said Afshan Khan, UNICEF's director of emergency programmes.
"The scale of the crises, their duration and impact are unprecedented," she told AFP. "Conflicts are increasingly taking on sub-regional dimensions."
Khan said although child fighters had often been recruited for wars in poorer countries, it was now increasingly becoming common in middle-income nations such as Syria.
"We have information that thousands of children, mainly boys between the age of 13 and 18, are being recruited by armed groups in Syria," she said.
"What is new is also that the groups are paying stipends to the families of the children," Khan said.
The aid appeal is $1 billion higher than last year and targets 98 million people -- two-thirds of them children -- in 71 countries.
Khan said 20 percent of the total aid appeal was aimed at investment in education, "the bridge to the future".
- One in 10 in conflict zones -
According to UNICEF, more than one in 10 of the world's children -- or 230 million -- currently live in countries and areas hit by armed conflicts.
The largest chunk of the appeal -- $903 million -- is aimed at helping children in Syria and the sub-region.
"Half of the children in Syria are out of schools and one-third of the schools have been destroyed," said Khan, who has just returned from a tour of Syria.
According to UNICEF at least 160 children died in attacks on schools in the country last year.
More than eight million Syrian children have been affected by the civil war, with 1.7 million now living as refugees, according to the latest UN figures.
The agency is also targeting raising $500 million to help Ebola victims in west Africa and prevent fresh outbreaks.
"Around a quarter of the Ebola cases here have been in children," said Peter Salama, UNICEF's emergency coordinator for the disease.
The Ebola mortality rate is higher in children, he said, adding that 16,000 children in west Africa had lost their parents or guardians to the disease.
The response to the Ebola crisis was "the biggest logistics operation in UNICEF's history with 5,000 metric tonnes of supplies delivered in the past six months," Salama said.
Another major problem area in Africa is Nigeria where attacks by the Islamist Boko Haram group have intensified, displacing more than one million people in the northeast.
Human Rights Watch said in October that more than 500 women and girls have been abducted since the Boko Haram insurgency began in 2009, although other estimates put the figure much higher.
"I don't see the Boko Haram menace ending in the near future and what is very worrying for us is that the kidnapping of children, especially girls, is spilling over from Nigeria to neighbouring countries," Khan said.
"We could be faced with a huge humanitarian sub-regional crisis."
UNICEF is also seeking $32.5 million for Ukraine, where about 5.2 million people are living in war zones, over 600,000 people have been internally displaced and some 1.7 million children have been affected by the conflict.
The appeal also targets donations for hugely underfunded crises which have fallen off the radar such as Afghanistan (35 percent funded in 2014) and Palestine (23 percent funded last year).
"Afghanistan cannot afford to be forgotten just because it is no longer in the headlines," Khan said. "Severe malnutrition affects more than 30 percent of children and we cannot forget that."
© 2015 AFP