Children most affected by the conflict in Belet Weyne
NAIROBI - The recent conflict in the town of Belet Weyne (Hiran Region, Central Somalia) calls for immediate humanitarian response, UNICEF said today. Over the past several weeks, fighting intensified in Belet Weyne between the Ethiopian forces and anti-government elements, causing massive displacement, civilian casualties and destruction of property. UNICEF and its partners are building up their capacity to respond to the urgent needs in the town and its surrounding areas, but heavy fighting has seriously hampered humanitarian agencies’ access.
Over 70,000 persons remain displaced from Belet Weyne lacking even the most basic human needs including food, water, health and protection - forced to live in unhygienic and unsanitary conditions.
“Children are particularly vulnerable. There are reports of children being killed, injured or gone missing due to the fighting” said Christian Balslev-Olesen, UNICEF Representative to Somalia. “We also received reports from partners which indicate an increase in the number of unaccompanied children who have been separated from their family, relatives and communities. Some of them are very young children, under seven years old. Isolated from their supportive environments, these children are most vulnerable to physical and sexual abuse, as well as exploitation as cheap or free labour,” added Balslev-Olesen.
According to reports from UNICEF’s non-governmental organization (NGO) partners on the ground in Belet Weyne, unaccompanied children are particularly vulnerable to the risk of recruitment by armed forces.
To ensure a protective environment for children, UNICEF is currently supporting the Child Protection Network operating in Hiran region, a group of community-based organizations working along with communities to monitor and identify children at risk and help them receive the necessary services. UNICEF, in cooperation with partner NGOs, is also conducting a rapid assessment to evaluate the situation of vulnerable children. Child-friendly spaces will also be established, providing children with psychosocial care, counseling and recreational activities, in addition to a safe environment.
“Lack of access is a major issue that we are facing today. Although humanitarian interventions are ongoing, our ability to respond quickly and effectively with high impact has been undermined significantly due to the deteriorating security conditions,” said Balslev-Olesen. “All parties involved in the conflict must prioritize civilian’s safety and well being- especially children- and ensure access for humanitarian organizations.”
UNICEF will assit with the feeding of 15,000 under-five children in Belet Weyne town and surrounding areas, along with supplementary feeding programmes for 1,000 malnourished children.. Health services are being strengthened through the provision of supplies to aid approximately 200,000 people. Hygiene and sanitation promotion and services to prevent any outbreak of Acute Watery Diarrhea are ongoing.
UNICEF is also working with partners to prepare for school resumption, to gradually introduce a sense of normalcy for children.
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