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‘Ticking time bombs’ for the world’s most vulnerable children

Guest content
23 February 2023

Today, there are more children in need of desperate humanitarian assistance than at any other time since World War II. By Baher Kamal for IPS News.

“Across the globe, children and their families are facing a deadly mix of crises, from conflict and displacement to disease, outbreaks and soaring rates of malnutrition. Meanwhile, climate change is making these crises worse and unleashing new ones.”

Tragically enough, UNICEF – the world’s body which was created in the aftermath of the Second World War to save the lives of millions of children who fell prey to the devastating weapons used by their own continent: Europe – could not depict more accurately the current situation of the most innocent humans.

The UN Children Fund in fact reports on the pressing need to provide life-saving help to millions of children trapped in continuing atrocities committed by adults.

In its report: 11 emergencies that need more attention and support in 2023, UNICEF focuses on the following countries where, additionally, resources have fallen short:

South Sudan

Unprecedented flooding in South Sudan has taken a devastating toll on families. Crops have been destroyed, grazing spaces for cattle and other livestock have been submerged and families have been forced to flee their homes.

With hunger and malnutrition on the rise across the flooded regions, some communities are likely to face starvation without sustained humanitarian assistance.

UNICEF is working to screen and treat children with severe acute malnutrition, also known as severe wasting – the most lethal form of undernutrition, and one of the top threats to child survival. Read the latest appeal for South Sudan


After eight years of conflict, the systems that Yemen’s families depend on remain on the edge of total collapse. More than 23.4 million people, including 12.9 million children, have, so far, fallen victim to such a brutal war.

In addition, more than 11,000 children have been killed or maimed since 2015, while conflict, massive displacement and recurring climate shocks have left more than 2 million children “acutely malnourished and struggling to survive.” Read the latest appeal for Yemen


Political turmoil, civil unrest and gang violence, crippling poverty and natural disasters, a deadly combination of threats are already posing a massive challenge for families in Haiti. A surge in cholera in 2022 is posing yet another risk for children’s health – and their lives.

“There is an urgent need to step up efforts to protect families against cholera by delivering cholera kits and water purifying tablets and trucking in clean water.”

To contain malnutrition, UNICEF is also screening children for wasting to ensure that those who need help can be treated in mobile clinics and other facilities. Read the latest appeal for Haiti

DR Congo

An escalation in armed conflict and recurrent outbreaks of deadly diseases are taking a heavy toll on millions of children in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

The country hosts the “second-highest number of internally displaced people in the world.”

The cramped conditions in the camps that families are living in are fraught with danger for children, who face an increased risk of violence and disease. Read the latest appeal for Democratic Republic of the Congo.


The rains that brought historic flooding to much of Pakistan in 2022 may have ended, but the crisis for children has not.

Months after floods ravaged the country, vast swathes of cropland and villages remain under water, while millions of girls and boys are still in need of immediate lifesaving support.

Around 8 million people are still exposed to flood waters or living close to flooded areas. “Many of these families are still living in makeshift tents alongside the road or near the rubble of their home – often in the open, right next to contaminated and stagnant water.”

UNICEF on January 2022 reported that up to 4 million children in Pakistan are still living next to stagnant and contaminated floodwater Read the latest appeal for Pakistan

Burkina Faso

Political fragility, the impacts of climate change and economic and health crises have contributed to the internal displacement of around 1.7 million people in Burkina Faso – 60% of them are children.

“The anxiety, depression and other stress-related problems associated with displacement can take a lifelong toll on children’s emotional and physical health.” Read the latest appeal for Burkina Faso


Deepening conflict in Myanmar continues to impact children and their families, with some 5.6 million children in need of humanitarian assistance.

Attacks on schools and hospitals have continued at alarming levels, while grave violations of child rights in armed conflict have been reported.

The conflict has undermined the delivery of child health services, including routine immunisation, threatening to take a long-lasting toll on children’s health and well-being. Read the latest appeal for Myanmar


“Children in the State of Palestine continue to face a protracted protection crisis and an ongoing occupation.” Around 2.1 million people – more than half of them children – now require humanitarian assistance.

Since 2009, UNICEF has been supporting family centres across the Gaza Strip to provide psychosocial care for children.

Children in need of more specialised services – such as those facing violence at home, school or work – are provided with a case manager who works directly with them and their families. Read the latest appeal for the State of Palestine


As the Rohingya refugee crisis enters its fifth year, Bangladesh still hosts hundreds of thousands of Rohingya refugees who settled in the Cox’s Bazar District after fleeing “extreme violence” in Myanmar.

While basic services have been provided in the camps, “children still face disease outbreaks, malnutrition, inadequate educational opportunities and other risks like exploitation and violence.” Read the latest appeal for Bangladesh


The situation was already dire far earlier to the recent earthquakes. In fact, “more than a decade of humanitarian crises and hostilities has left children in Syria facing one of the most complex emergencies in the world.”

“Two thirds of the population require assistance” due to the worsening economic crisis, continued localised hostilities, mass displacement and devastated public infrastructure.

The conflict has seen one of the largest education crises in recent history, with “a whole generation of Syrian children paying a devastating price.” Read the latest appeal for Syria


Four failed rainy seasons in a row have left Kenya experiencing its worst drought in 40 years. Without water, crops cannot grow, and animals and livestock die.

The resulting loss of nutritious food, combined with poor sanitation, has left “hundreds of thousands of children requiring treatment for wasting.”

Children with wasting are too thin and their immune systems are weak, leaving them vulnerable to developmental delays, disease and death. Read the latest appeal for Kenya

Millions more

In addition to these 11 nations so far identified by UNICEF as needing urgent life-saving humanitarian assistance, with millions of children being the most vulnerable, there are several other countries where they live in dire situations, on which IPS reports in Part II of this two-part series.

While the world’s biggest powers and their giant private corporations continue to attach high priority to their military –and commercial– dominance, both of them being shockingly profitable, entire generations are being lost to deadly armed conflicts, devastating climate catastrophes, diseases, hunger and more imposed impoverishment.

Part I of this series of two articles focussed on the unprecedented suffering of the most innocent and helpless human beings – children– in 11 countries. But there are many more.

According to the UN Children Fund (UNICEF), hundreds of thousands of children continue to pay the highest price of a mixture of man-made brutalities, with their lives, apart from the unfolding proxy war in Ukraine, and the not yet final account of victims of the Türkiye and Syria earthquakes, which are forcing children to sleep in the streets under the rumble, amid the chilling cold.


Nigeria is just one of the already reported cases of 11 countries. UNICEF on 11 February 2023 appealed for 1.3 billion US dollars to stop what it calls “the ticking bomb of child malnutrition.”

The appeal is meant to help six million people severely affected by conflict, disease, and disaster in Northeast Nigeria.

“The large-scale humanitarian and protection crisis shows no sign of abating,” said Matthias Schmale, the UN Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator for Nigeria. “An estimated 2.4 million people are in acute need – impacted by conflict, disaster and disease – and require urgent support.”

The “ticking time bomb” of child malnutrition is escalating in Nigeria’s Northeast, with the number of children suffering from acute malnutrition projected to increase to two million in 2023, up from 1.74 million last year, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs reported.

Already high levels of severe acute malnutrition are projected to more than double from 2022 to a projected 697,000 this year. Women and girls are the hardest hit, said Schmale.

“Over 80% of people in need of humanitarian assistance across Borno, Adamawa and Yobe states are women and children. They face increased risks of violence, abduction, rape and abuse.”

The UN Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide Alice Nderitu raised concerns about a worsening security situation, calling for urgent action to address conflicts and prevent “atrocity crimes.”

Horn of Africa: the suffering of over 20 million children

By the end of 2022, UNICEF warned of a funding shortfall as the region faces an unprecedented fifth consecutive failed rainy season and a poor outlook for the sixth.

The number of children suffering dire drought conditions across Ethiopia, Kenya and Somalia has “more than doubled in five months,” according to UNICEF.

“Around 20.2 million children are now facing the threat of severe hunger, thirst and disease, compared to 10 million in July [2022], as climate change, conflict, global inflation and grain shortages devastate the region.”

While collective and accelerated efforts have mitigated some of the worst impacts of what had been feared, “children in the Horn of Africa are still facing the most severe drought in more than two generations,” said UNICEF Deputy Regional Director for Eastern and Southern Africa Lieke van de Wiel.

“Humanitarian assistance must be continued to save lives and build the resilience of the staggering number of children and families who are being pushed to the edge – dying from hunger and disease and being displaced in search of food, water and pasture for their livestock.”

Nearly two million children across Ethiopia, Kenya, and Somalia are currently estimated to require ”urgent treatment for severe acute malnutrition, the deadliest form of hunger.”

In addition, across Ethiopia, Kenya and Somalia:

  • More than two million people are displaced internally because of drought.
  • Water insecurity has more than doubled with close to 24 million people now confronting dire water shortages.
  • Approximately 2.7 million children are out of school because of the drought, with an additional estimated 4 million children at risk of dropping out.
  • As families are driven to the edge dealing with increased stress, children face a range of protection risks – including child labour, child marriage and female genital mutilation.
  • Gender-based violence, including sexual violence, exploitation and abuse, is also increasing due to widespread food insecurity and displacement.

UNICEF’s 2023 emergency appeal of US$759 million to provide life-saving support to children and their families will require timely and flexible funding support, especially in the areas of education, water and sanitation, and child protection, which were ”severely underfunded” during UNICEF’s 2022 response.

An additional US$690 million is required to support long-term investments to help children and their families to recover and adapt to climate change.

Meanwhile, more unfolding tragedies for children

The above-reported suffering for the most defenceless human beings–children, does not end here. Indeed, two more major tragedies continue unfolding. Such is the case of the brutal proxy war in Ukraine and the most destructive earthquakes in Türkiye and Syria.

Türkiye-Syria Earthquakes

A steady flow of UN aid trucks filled with vital humanitarian relief continues to cross the border from Southern Türkiye into Northwest Syria to help communities enduring “terrible trauma” caused by the earthquake disaster, UN aid teams on 17 February 2023 reported.

As UN aid convoys continue to deliver more relief to quake-hit Northwest Syria via additional land routes from Türkiye, UN humanitarians warned that “many thousands of children have likely been killed,” while millions more vulnerable people urgently need support.

“Even without verified numbers, it’s tragically clear the number of children killed, the number of children orphaned is going to keep on rising,” on 14 February 2023 said UN Children Fund (UNICEF) spokesperson James Elder.

In Türkiye, the total number of children living in the 10 provinces before the emergency was 4.6 million, and 2.5 million in Syria.

And as the humanitarian focus shifts from rescue to recovery, eight days after the disaster, Elder warned that cases of “hypothermia and respiratory infections” were rising among youngsters, as he appealed for continued solidarity with all those affected by the emergency.

“Everyone, everywhere, needs more support, more safe water, more warmth, more shelter, more fuel, more medicines, more funding,” he said.

“Families with children are sleeping in streets, malls, mosques, schools, under bridges, staying out in the open for fear of returning to their homes.”

“Unimaginable hardship”

“The children and families of Türkiye and Syria are facing unimaginable hardship in the aftermath of these devastating earthquakes,” said UNICEF Executive Director Catherine Russell.

“We must do everything in our power to ensure that everyone who survived this catastrophe receives life-saving support, including safe water, sanitation, critical nutrition and health supplies, and support for children’s mental health. Not only now, but over the long term.”

The number of children killed and injured during the quakes and their aftermath has not yet been confirmed but is likely to be in the many thousands. The official total death toll has now passed 45,000.


Many families have lost their homes and are now living in temporary shelters, “often in freezing conditions and with snow and rain adding to their suffering.” Access to safe water and sanitation is also a major concern, as are the health needs of the affected population.


Months of escalating conflict have left millions of children in Ukraine vulnerable to biting winds and frigid temperatures, UNICEF reports.

Hundreds of thousands of people have seen their homes, businesses or schools damaged or destroyed while continuing attacks on critical energy infrastructure have left millions of children without sustained access to electricity, heating and water.

The list of brutalities committed against the world’s children goes on. The funds desperately needed to save their lives represent a tiny faction of all that is being spent on wars.

Baher Kamal is Senior Advisor to IPS Director General on Africa & the Middle East. 

Original source: Inter Press Service
‘Ticking time bombs’ for the most defenceless: The children (I)
‘Ticking time bombs’ for the most defenceless: The children (II)

Image credit: UNICEF Child Safe Space, Alwand IDP Camp, Khanakin Iraq. By Josh Zakary, Flickr