Skip to main content

UNICEF warns it may cut vital services for Syrian children

With a major shortfall in donor funding, UNICEF may cut services to 6.6 million Syrian children, including critical water and sanitation services
Actress Mia Farrow, a UNICEF goodwill ambassador, distributes clothes to Syrian refugees in 2013 (AFP)

While the numbers of Syrian children in need of humanitarian aid continues to rise, the world's leading children's charity warned on Monday that it may need to cut vital services for lack of funding. 

UNICEF's plea for funds to fill the donor shortfall comes as Islamic State militants pushed 30,000 Syrians out of their homes in the east of the country, according to the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

The newly displaced Syrians are now sleeping outside without foot or water while they wait to see if IS will let them return to their homes, the NGO said.

UNICEF has received 37 percent of the $770 million it needs to cover its services until the end of the year. That amount covers the organisation's work with children inside Syria and those living as refugees in neighbouring countries.

"There is actually a very real risk that as a result of this funding crisis and unless the money does come in we will be forced to discontinue some of the critical services that we are providing," UNICEF spokesperson SImon Ingram told reporters in Geneva.

Around 6.6 million Syrian children need help in the region, a figure that has gone up by one third, or about two million, since June 2013, Ingram said.

"That's an astonishing number and it's one that is rising very, very fast," he said.

UNICEF is especially worried - given the start of the hot summer in the region - that it may soon have to halt water and sanitation services in Iraq, Lebanon and Jordan, which along with Turkey, are hosting the lion’s share of Syria's refugees.

Ingram stressed the potentially dire consequences of such a move in places where diseases can easily spread.

Of particular concern is polio, with thirty-six cases of the crippling and potentially fatal disease discovered in Syria this year. Two cases have been detected in Iraq, according to the UN.

Since the Syria conflict erupted in March 2011, more than 162,000 people have been killed and millions displaced.

In all, 10.9 million Syrians - nearly half of the population of 22 million - are in desperate need of humanitarian aid inside the country, according to UN figures. More than 5 million of them are children.

Another 2.9 million Syrian refugees, half of them children, also rely on emergency assistance in neighbouring countries to survive, with statistics showing 100,000 people fleeing the violence to join their ranks each month.

With the conflict showing no sign of abating, the UN expects the number of refugees in the region to rise to 3.6 million by the end of the year.

Also on Friday, the UN's refugee chief Antonio Guterres presented a revised plan for addressing the wider Syrian crisis, urging donors to cough up the rest of the $3.74 billion needed this year to help Syrian refugees across the region.

So far, only $1.1 billion of the funds have been provided.

30,000 expelled in one day

IS reportedly expelled the residents after seizing the town from the al-Qaeda affiliate al-Nusra Front.

Another 30,000 residents were forced from their homes in the towns of Khosham and Tabia Jazeera, also in eastern Deir Ezzor province, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

Though both IS and Al-Nusra share some basic points of ideology, the two groups have regularly clashed, with al-Nusra joining a coalition of armed opposition groups fighting IS.

IS has seized large swathes of territory in Syria - including a major oil field last week - and neighbouring Iraq, declaring the land it holds to be an Islamic “caliphate,” and its leader the ruler of all Muslims.

On a Facebook page, activists from Shuheil said IS had ordered all residents to leave, and entered in armoured cars and tanks “because of their fear and cowardice.”

A video distributed by activists on YouTube purportedly shows mediators announcing the terms of the expulsion, saying residents are required to hand over weapons and remain out of Shuhail “until (IS) feels it is safe.”

Activists said residents feared IS fighters planned to loot their homes.

Stay informed with MEE's newsletters

Sign up to get the latest alerts, insights and analysis, starting with Turkey Unpacked

Middle East Eye delivers independent and unrivalled coverage and analysis of the Middle East, North Africa and beyond. To learn more about republishing this content and the associated fees, please fill out this form. More about MEE can be found here.