3.7 million children in earthquake-affected Syria face catastrophic combination of threats, warns UNICEF Executive Director, following two-day visit

Displaced people are seen outside temporary tents in Aleppo, Syria, on Feb. 15, 2023. When the massive earthquakes rocked Syria's northern city of Aleppo on Feb. 6, many people became homeless once again. (Photo by Hummam Sheikh Ali/Xinhua)

The 3.7 million children in affected areas of Syria who survived the powerful earthquakes that hit southern Türkiye and northern Syria on 6 February are facing several growing and potentially catastrophic threats, UNICEF Executive Director Catherine Russell warned today, at the end of a two-day visit to Syria.

The emotional and psychological impact of the earthquakes on children, the heightened threat of contagious, contact-transmitted and waterborne diseases to displaced families, and a lack of access to basic services for families left vulnerable by almost 12 years of conflict run the risk of creating continuing and compounding catastrophes for children affected.

“The children of Syria have already endured unspeakable horror and heartbreak,” said UNICEF Executive Director Catherine Russell. “Now, these earthquakes and aftershocks not only destroyed more homes, schools and places for children to play, they also shattered any sense of safety for so many of the most vulnerable children and families.”

In Aleppo, Russell met children at a temporary learning space, where more than 250 children living in a collective shelter can access education, mobile health services, recreation, and physiological first aid activities.

At a Mosque in Al Masharqa, Russell spoke with a mother of two named Esraa, whose husband went missing during the conflict. She is now raising her ten and 11-year-old daughters on her own. Esraa is one of thousands who have lost their home to the earthquakes. She and the girls spent two nights in the cold and rain before finding shelter in the mosque. They are now getting by on cash assistance from UNICEF. “During the second earthquake which happened a week ago, my daughter was so scared and stressed that she fainted,” Esraa told Russell. One of the girls, Jana, told Russell when asked what she hoped for, “I want a bed and a home.”

Russell also visited a UNICEF-supported water-pumping station that provides safe water for about two-thirds of the neighbourhoods in Aleppo. With many more families now displaced and living in cramped conditions in temporary shelters, providing continued access to safe water and sanitation is critical in preventing outbreaks of diseases such as scabies, lice, cholera, and acute watery diarrhoea.

In north-west Syria, UNICEF has reached more than 400,000 affected people with either nutrition or water, sanitation and hygiene services and supplies. Prior to the earthquake, UNICEF had critical humanitarian supplies prepositioned, which began to reach children and families in the first 48 hours following the initial earthquake. So far, UNICEF trucks carrying humanitarian supplies for more than 1.8 million people have been sent to support communities and children in northwest Syria.

“It is not enough to simply provide immediate relief – we must commit to standing with these families for the long haul, helping them to regain a sense of stability and hope,” said Russell. “By providing access to essential services, like safe water, health care, and psychosocial support, we can help children and families heal from the awful experiences they have endured so they can begin to rebuild their lives.”

In Syria, UNICEF requires US$172.7 million to deliver immediate life-saving support for 5.4 million people, including 2.6 million children, impacted by the earthquake. Assistance will be delivered to highly impacted areas using all modalities possible, including within Syria and through cross-border and crossline operations. It is critical that support is flexible and unearmarked for UNICEF and its partners to respond on the basis of need alone and anywhere children are affected.

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