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Hundreds of thousands of children endure desperate conditions following earthquakes

On 11 February 2023, a woman carrying in her arms a small child child takes refuge in temporary shelter set on the grounds of the Industry School in the city of Atarib, west of Aleppo, Syria. © UNICEF/UN0782378/Albam

“As families face the wretched, heartbreaking reality that the focus in Türkiye and Syria is moving to recovery more than rescue, UNICEF fears many thousands of children have been killed. Even without verified numbers, it is tragically clear that numbers will continue grow.

“In Türkiye, the total number of children living in the 10 provinces hit by the two earthquakes was 4.6 million children. In Syria, 2.5 million children are affected,” says James Elder, UNICEF spokesman.

“Children and families are in desperate need of additional support. Many of our local partner organisation’s staff and first responders have been killed, injured, displaced, and their offices and equipment destroyed,

“Everyone, everywhere needs more support. More safe water. More warmth. More shelter. More medicines. More funding.

“Families with children are sleeping in the streets, malls, schools, mosques, bus stations and under bridges, staying with their children in open areas for fear of going home, and not being able to assess the structural damage and potential impact of likely aftershocks. This means tens of thousands of families are exposed to the elements at a time of year when temperatures are bitingly cold, and snow and freezing rain are common. Reports rise daily of the number of children suffering from hypothermia and respiratory infections.

“In Syria, UNICEF’s immediate life-saving response includes providing safe drinking water, warm winter clothes, medical and nutritional supplies; in Türkiye: dispatching winter clothes for children, family, baby and mother hygiene kits, family travel hygiene kits and blankets. UNICEF is also procuring sleeping bags, power banks and sleeping chairs across the 10 affected provinces.

Given the catastrophic, and ever-increasing, death toll, it is clear that many, many children will have lost parents in these devastating earthquakes

“In Türkiye, UNICEF, in coordination with the Ministry of Family and Social Services, has deployed social workers to the hospitals to help identify unaccompanied and separated children and make sure their basic needs are met. In addition, together with the Ministry of Family and Social Services, UNICEF has launched 10 new hotlines in the affected provinces for unaccompanied and separated children.

“Alongside these efforts, UNICEF is also working with our partners to provide children affected with critical psychosocial and mental health support. For many of these children – particularly in war-affected Syria – this is trauma on top of trauma. Call it what you will – compound trauma. For these children, it is unyielding trauma. To quickly expand the reach of psychosocial support for children, UNICEF also trained close to 70 trainers of trainers on psychological first aid, while mobilizing longer-term mental health and psychosocial support, and providing hundreds of recreational kits that will provide tens of thousands of children with items to support them cope with the impact of the earthquake through stimulation, learning, and reestablishing a sense of normalcy.

“Finally, and as a reminder of the unprecedented hardships facing children in Syria: Every child under the age of almost 12 has known nothing but conflict, violence or displacement. Some children have been displaced six or seven times. And more than 1.7 million registered refugees from Syria live in the 10 affected provinces in Türkiye, and an estimated 811,000 of them are children. Years of violence, destruction and deteriorating economic conditions have made living conditions unbearable. This would appear the international community’s last chance to show solidarity to these millions of children.”

Text courtesy of UNICEF

Author: Simon Weedy

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