Why UNICEF Needs $3 Billion

The organization is launching its largest appeal for funds ever to help children at risk from crises such as the Ebola outbreak and fighting in Syria and Ukraine. Badra Mamet/Reuters

Humanitarian crises stemming from violent conflict, climate change and health epidemics will affect 62 million children this year according to UNICEF, which launched its largest appeal for funds ever on Thursday.

The agency is seeking $3.1 billion in funding for its Humanitarian Action for Children 2015 appeal, $1 billion more than last year, to help children in 71 countries living in dangerous circumstances and facing a "new generation" of crises. About three million more children are being targeted in this year's appeal, compared with 59 million in 2014.

One in every 10 kids worldwide, or 230 million children, live in a country experiencing armed conflict. UNICEF directs its appeal funding toward children that are suffering through the most complex and challenging crises like the Ebola outbreak, which at its peak required supplies to be airlifted to the sick, and also the intensely complex and dangerous security situation in Syria.

"What we've seen with both the conflicts in the Middle East and the Ebola outbreak is that the needs of children have increased exponentially," said Afshan Khan, UNICEF's director of emergency programs. "The jump in $1 billion in funding from last year's appeal represents the increasing needs [of children] but also UNICEF's increasing capacity to make a difference in children's lives."

The largest portion of UNICEF's appeal, almost $1 billion, will go towards assisting Syrians affected by the country's civil war, now entering its fifth year.

More than half of Syria's population has been displaced since fighting broke out between pro-government troops and an amalgamation of opposition forces in 2011. Approximately 7.6 million Syrians have been displaced, and an additional 3.8 million have fled the country, according to the United Nations Refugee Agency.

UNICEF hopes to divide its funding for Syria between the 4.2 million adults and children living in Syria, and roughly 3 million Syrians living in neighboring refugee host countries.

About 95 percent of Syrian refugees live in five neighboring countries—Jordan, Egypt, Iraq, Turkey and Lebanon—where refugees have relocated to some of the poorest districts.

Funding for Syria will also go toward safe water, sanitation, education and vaccinations, as an outbreak of polio or measles in a camp or crowded shelter would "spread like wildfire," said Khan.

"I was struck by how difficult it was for Syrian kids who had been used to having toys, to having access to education, to having a home, to now be living in tent without many of the basic amenities they had in Syria," said Khan, who recently returned from a trip to Lebanon and Syria.

The conflict has taken nearly 3 million children out of school, leading many refugee children living in Jordan work to provide money for their family. A quarter of the schools in Syria have been damaged or destroyed, and are being used as shelter or targeted for attacks, said Khan.

UNICEF is also seeking $500 million for countries affected by the Ebola outbreak, which will go toward scaling up efforts to isolate and treat every Ebola case and prevent further outbreaks. More than 22,000 people have been infected with Ebola and 8,795 have died in Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea, according to the World Health Organization since the outbreak started last year.

UNICEF is also requesting $26.5 million to assist in Nigeria, which is reeling from a spate of deadly attacks perpetrated by the militant group Boko Haram. In April 2014, the group kidnapped 276 schoolgirls from Chibok in northeastern Borno state, 219 of whom remain missing, amid reports that many have been sold off or forced to marry their captors.

Disturbing photos showing child soldiers being trained by Boko Haram were published by a Nigerian media company on Twitter on Sunday - the group allegedly boosts its membership numbers by recruiting children. ISIS also recruits and indoctrinates children, in addition to subjecting them to torture, sexual abuse and death.

"When we talk about a new generation of crises, what we're seeing is children increasingly targeted. That means recruitment of children, child soldiers. It's the case in South Sudan, in Somalia, Nigeria, Afghanistan, Syria and Iraq. Increasingly, we have recognized there's a real importance need to address the issue of child protection," said Khan.

Making sure families have access to social services and a means of earning an income and putting children in education and giving them options other than picking up a gun are some ways of driving down rates of child soldier recruitment and indoctrination," said Khan. 280 child soldiers were released by a South Sudanese militia on Tuesday, the first step in releasing roughly 3,000 children, the BBC reports.

UNICEF is also seeking $32.45 million for Ukraine, now nearly a year into intense fighting between pro-Russia rebels and government troops. The agency is also appealing for "hugely underfunded and forgotten crises" in Niger, Afghanistan and Palestine.