“So far we have helped half a million children”

L’
UNICEF
responded quickly
the Russian invasion of Ukraine by providing humanitarian aid
. What are the priorities for war-affected children today?

Paul Heber. – “UNICEF has had a presence in eastern Ukraine since 2014 – the year that marked the start of the conflict in the Donbass region. That’s why we’ve been working there for eight years under very difficult conditions. So far we have helped half a million children.

As the conflict moved west, we had to adapt. Thanks to our experience, as well as the gear and supplies we had, we got there pretty quickly. We have also mobilized additional staff.

At the moment we are working to ensure that there is enough water and sanitary facilities. Health services, particularly for nutrition, are also needed. And we also offer a lot of psychological help. But it is not easy. You have to know where the kids are, which is difficult in the chaos.

We have a main center in Copenhagen, a huge warehouse. From here everything can be sent worldwide within 72 hours. We try to land the planes as close as possible to the borders to then transport the goods by truck… of course with all the problems that this involves, knowing that certain roads are closed, destroyed…

How do you ensure the safety of refugees?

“We have installed so-called “Blue Dots” across borders. Most of our teams in Ukraine are mobile, while the “Blue Dot” centers are fixed. They support the people there psychologically and medically. They can accommodate between 3,000 and 5,000 children per day. That may seem like a lot, but it doesn’t have to be… There are 7.5 million children in Ukraine who need help. As we know, some of them left the country. Others never will.

Is it UNICEF’s job to ensure that these children are not exploited when they arrive in the countries that have agreed to take them?

“Historically, we are not used to this in Luxembourg. So far the government has played its part; Caritas and the Red Cross ensure that the refugees are well accommodated.

Our task in Luxembourg is to collect as much money as possible as quickly as possible. It’s about assessing expectations and comparing them to reality. For example, if we had collected a lot of winter clothes – which we absolutely need in Ukraine – we would have had to accept, sort and send them. This will need time. On the other hand, if we have the money to buy these clothes, we can directly choose what we need and ship it faster.

Unicef ​​maintains a detailed report that maps all humanitarian crises around the world and allocates a budget to each. At the beginning of the year, the planned budget for Ukraine was $50 million for 2022. A day or two after the escalation, it increased to $66 million, and today
it exceeded $340 million
. At the same time, the humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan and other parts of the world continues. Will the war in Ukraine overshadow these regions?

“We’ve raised quite a bit of money for Afghanistan… and not just since last summer. Just because it doesn’t get released doesn’t mean we’re not working behind the scenes.

To give you an idea, more than half of the Afghan population – including 12.9 million children – is in need of humanitarian assistance. If we do nothing, every second child under the age of five will suffer from acute malnutrition. To put that in perspective, we need $349 million for Ukraine, but for Afghanistan, the budget for 2022 is $2 billion.”

This interview, conducted in March and first published in the April 2022 issue
Delano Magazine, was translated into French and edited by Paperjam.

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