AMMAN - The United Nations agency for children, UNICEF, has appealed for US$92.4 million to be able to continue its response activities across the Middle East and North Africa region as part of its efforts to combat the coronavirus pandemic.

The UN body noted that coronavirus outbreak continues to spread throughout the Middle East and North Africa region with over 105,419 cases and 5,699 associated deaths.

"Iran recorded the highest number of cases among all countries in the region with nearly 80 percent of total cases in the region," it added. Commenting on regional developments, Ted Chaiban, UNICEF's MENA Regional Director, said, "The region has the biggest number of children in need in the world due to ongoing conflicts and wars. It has the highest unemployment rates among young people while nearly half of all children in the region live in a multi-dimension of poverty; deprived of basic services including education, housing, nutrition, health care, safe water, sanitation and access to information."

"The combination of lack or inadequate basic services, years of conflict, poverty, deprivation and now COVID-19 are hitting vulnerable children the most, making their hard lives simply unbearable. The longer all of this goes on, the deeper the impact will be, especially on children," he added.

The region is home to nearly 25 million children in need including refugees and internally displaced. The majority of whom were uprooted due to armed conflicts and wars in Syria, Yemen, Sudan, Palestine, Iraq and Libya.

The United Nations Economic and Social Commission for West Asia, UNESCWA, estimates that 1.7 million jobs would be lost in 2020 due to the closure of most businesses, suspension of salaries and near-total lockdowns. This is expected to increase poverty by an additional eight million people in the region. UNICEF estimates that it is likely that half of them are children. Unless supported by national social protection systems and programmes, families will have no choice but to resort to child labour, early marriage and school drop-out only to survive, the UN children's agency added.

"While we are fortunate not to have many cases among children, it is evident that the pandemic is affecting children firsthand. Many families in the region are already becoming poorer due to the loss of jobs especially the daily-paid. Families are struggling to bring food to the table due to containment measures. Beyond that, it is safe to say that all children across the region are impacted psychologically as a result of the shock of lock down, not going to school, not playing or doing sports outdoors or not being able to meet their friends," Chaiban noted.

Despite the closures of borders and air space and disruption in the air services globally and in the region, UNICEF has delivered so far nearly 1.6 million units of supplies across the region including through procurement from the local market to support the impacted economies. This includes support to the ministries of heath and health workers on the frontlines with the delivery of critical medical and health supplies, including personal protective equipment like surgical masks, gowns, gloves and goggles, COVID-19 testing kits, hygiene products, thermometers and training of health workers on infection prevention.

UNICEF is also working with local partners to maintain and repair water networks, pumps and systems to provide running safe water to communities across the region critical to making water available to communities to support hygiene practices. It is also providing water, sanitation and hygiene supplies including safe drinking water, soap bars, liquid soap, shampoo, detergents, jerry cans, disinfectants and hand sanitisers.

Around 110 million children in the region are now at home and not in school. UNICEF is supporting the efforts of ministries of education on the continuity of learning through distant learning programmes and putting mechanisms and tools to provide school children learning including making material available on radio, TV and online platforms and printed copies for vulnerable communities.

As part of global efforts to combat what has become an 'infodemic' including fake news and inaccurate information, UNICEF is also adding printed awareness material to its humanitarian assistance packages and disseminating information on radio and TV. It has launched a large-scale digital campaign on social media with information in Arabic and other local languages.

© Copyright Emirates News Agency (WAM) 2020.