By Claire Hajaj
AMMAN, Jordan, 21 April 2008 – In recent weeks, families in Basra and Baghdad’s Sadr City have been plunged into one of the most violent episodes in Iraq’s recent history. As Iraq’s security forces mobilized against militia groups, widespread clashes and curfews kept families trapped indoors and led to shortages of water, food and medical supplies.
While life is slowly returning to normal in Basra, fighting is ongoing in Sadr City. Life for children there has become harder and more frightening. Addressing shortages of water and medical supplies in Sadr City are immediate humanitarian priorities.
Clashes between militias and military forces have shut down many parts of the city for days on end, affecting thousands. Some curfews have lifted, but fear of roadside bombs is still keeping many families at home.
Schools should be a haven
Education is also under threat. Most of the city’s primary and secondary schools are closed. More than 20 schools have been reported damaged in the violence, with unconfirmed numbers of students and teachers killed.
UNICEF is calling for schools to be protected as a priority.
For weeks, Basra’s residents were unable to leave their homes to get water or attend school.
According to reports from people on the ground, some empty schools are hosting families who have been displaced. Still others may be in use by military forces.
“Schools are a haven for children in times of conflict,” said UNICEF Iraq Chief of Education Mette Nordstrand. “They are protected under international law as zones of peace. No matter what the circumstances, the only proper use for an Iraqi school is to educate and protect Iraqi children.”
Delivering water and supplies
Alongside its humanitarian partners, UNICEF has been assisting children in Basra and Sadr City since the crisis began. A UNICEF-supported water-tankering operation for districts in Basra reached families despite an ongoing curfew, providing the first fresh water many had seen in days.
UNICEF has since delivered health supplies for 12,000 people to Basra’s hospitals and is beginning to assist schools, which only reopened a few days ago.
In Sadr City, UNICEF’s tankering operations have delivered 2.1 million litres of water to deprived families living on the city’s outskirts and reached hospitals inside the city itself. Some 12,000 families have received water-purification tablets to treat their household water supply, while tablets for 4,200 more families in need have been delivered to local health officials.
“We are making the most of the access we have right now and are working hard despite the security problems to bring some relief to families,” said UNICEF Emergency Specialist Luciano Calestini. “However, the psychological impact on children will be far harder to heal. It is absolutely critical that they see an end to this violence and can get back into school as soon as possible.”
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