Near Fallujah’s outskirts on the banks of the Euphrates, a major humanitarian emergency is unfolding. The UN estimates that more than 80,000 people have fled the city over the past month during the Iraqi government’s attempt to crush Isil or Isis, and that 60,000 more will follow over the coming days.
War Child UK, which is working with Iraqi partner NGO to provide assistance to the people of Fallujah, has been hearing terrible stories of the suffering endured by families forced to live under the control of Isil.
But the most telling accounts have come from children. These are young children who have witnessed the horror of war at first hand.
Boys and girls arriving at the camps near Fallujah tell us of having seen people executed by Isil in the streets, or family members killed in the fighting. Exhausted grandparents are collapsing in the sand, with no shelter from the 40C desert heat.
Many children simply disappeared, recruited by Isil as soldiers when they were young boys of 14 or 15. Some joined because their fathers had been recruited to the cause. But either way, they have been exploited in a way that no child should ever have to experience.
The number of traumatised children fleeing the city is staggering. The UN announced last week that it was releasing $15m through the Central Emergency Response Fund to provide urgent life-saving assistance for displaced people in the area.
The news is welcome – but the support is nowhere near enough to deal with the scale and breadth of the problem of more than 80,000 people, most of them children, who have been traumatised by war.
The international community needs to act to make sure that the boys and girls of Fallujah are provided with the kind of funding that ensures they are offered both protection and education, not just food and water.
By the UN’s own admission, the $15m is a fraction of the $65m needed to respond to Fallujah crisis. And overall, a UN appeal for $861m for Iraq this year is only 36 percent funded.
War Child UK is supporting specialist psycho-social care and education services for children on the ground. But the $50m shortfall identified by the UN in Fallujah could be used by organisations to dramatically scale up our response for boys and girls on the ground.
It would also fund education services for out-of-school children. There are now tens of thousands of boys and girls arriving in the camps around Fallujah who will soon need to be enrolled in some form of schooling.
Isil held Fallujah for more than two years, dissolving the government curriculum and introducing its own brand of indoctrination.
These are years which the children can never get back. Without committed assistance from the international community, this could have a devastating impact on child development and the ability of under-educated boys and girls to get work in future.
War Child UK is aiming to support 8,000 boys and girls around Fallujah over the coming months with non-formal education opportunities and support with enrolling into mainstream schooling.
But the 8,000 children we are targeting are a fraction of the total number around Fallujah now. Even with assistance from the UN and other NGOs, the number of out-of-school children will vastly outstrip the supply of education services.
This is partly a political problem within the humanitarian system. At the moment more than 50 percent of victims of conflict are children – and yet less than 3 percent of global humanitarian aid is spent protecting them, and less than 1.5 percent on educating them.
There are nowhere near enough organisations focusing on child protection. So even where aid appeals are fully funded, the longer term needs of children affected by conflict are never fully addressed.
The international community needs to rectify this imbalance, and make the humanitarian system more responsive to the needs of children.
Otherwise conflicts like the battle for Fallujah will continue to take their toll on the most vulnerable victims of all – young boys and girls who are caught up in war.
This article has been excerpted from: ‘Fallujah crisis is hitting children the hardest’.