Weathering Winter With Help From UNICEF
Freezing, damp conditions pose a threat to children in humanitarian crises. UNICEF & partners provide critical support.
A deadly combination of displacement, soaring malnutrition rates, conflict and disaster has left more children in need of humanitarian assistance than at any time since World War II. As winter weather has brought freezing temperatures and damp conditions to some parts of the world, children have been left especially exposed and vulnerable.
The risk of hypothermia and serious respiratory infections threaten children whose immune systems are often already weakened from undernutrition. Children living in conflict areas, meanwhile, are more likely to be displaced, living in extreme poverty, or not enrolled in school, leaving them even more vulnerable when temperatures plunge. Even for families who have managed to remain in their homes, months or even years of conflict and unemployment have drained their financial resources, making purchases of warm clothing, heating fuel or repairs to their homes all but impossible.
UNICEF is on the ground, working with partners to provide lifesaving winter assistance to children — from blankets and jackets to cash transfers to help families afford essentials like fuel and clothes.
Months of escalating conflict have left millions of children in Ukraine vulnerable to biting winds and frigid temperatures. Hundreds of thousands of people have seen their homes, businesses or schools damaged or destroyed, while continuing attacks on critical energy infrastructure have left millions of children without sustained access to electricity, heating and water.
Beyond the immediate threats to survival posed by freezing conditions, badly damaged schools that are too cold to hold classes mean children are being deprived of the ability to learn or stay connected with friends and family, putting both their physical and mental health at growing risk.
Starting in September 2022, UNICEF began a comprehensive winter response, which included providing power generators to support the provision of safe drinking water, water for heating systems and essential infrastructure like medical facilities. UNICEF has also reached hundreds of thousands of children and their caregivers with winter clothing, blankets, heaters, and mobile and electrical boilers.
To provide families with access to warm, safe spaces across Ukraine, UNICEF also runs more than 140 ‘Spilno’ – Ukrainian for ‘Together’ – centers which provide a child-friendly space for children to play, receive psychosocial support and connect with peers.
The rains that brought historic flooding to large swathes of Pakistan in 2022 may have ended, but the crisis for children has not. Millions of girls and boys remain in need of immediate, lifesaving support as they endure a bitter winter without adequate shelter. Severe acute malnutrition, respiratory and waterborne diseases coupled with the cold are putting young lives at risk.
Many families have little more than mere cloth to cover makeshift shelters. In mountainous and high-altitude areas, which have also been affected by floods, it has snowed, and temperatures have dropped below freezing.
UNICEF and partners are providing items such as warm clothing, and blankets. UNICEF will continue to respond to urgent humanitarian needs, while also restoring and rehabilitating existing health, water, sanitation and education facilities for families returning home.
As families begin to return to their villages, UNICEF’s response has moved with them. Health, nutrition, water and sanitation services are being provided to respond to immediate needs, while support is also being provided for the Government’s efforts in climate-resilient recovery and reconstruction.
Decades of conflict, combined with a deteriorating economic situation, drought, food insecurity, and recurring floods have left millions of Afghanistan’s families vulnerable to the harsh winter weather. Temperatures, already plummeting below zero in many areas, have claimed the lives of tens of children and thousands of livestock. Cases of pneumonia and other illnesses are on the rise as families struggle to heat their homes and keep their children warm. These difficulties have recently been exacerbated by the ban on Afghan women working in NGOs and INGOs (international non-governmental organizations) which has limited the availability of vital programs in some places. The ban does not include the United Nations directly.
Children living in high altitude regions are especially vulnerable and require urgent assistance. As the conditions deteriorate and frigid temperatures continue, collecting supplies such as firewood, can mean trekking in treacherous conditions. Everyday tasks such as washing clothes become a challenge as footpaths become icy and sometimes inaccessible. UNICEF is distributing much-needed winter clothing, winter shoes and blankets.
UNICEF prepared for the winter early on. This included identifying inaccessible and partially inaccessible districts that require further support in winter, and having thousands of newborn kits – including blankets, diapers, clothes and other items – in place with health workers and at health facilities. UNICEF also prepositioned heating materials and health supplies, including antibiotics to treat respiratory and other infections, and first aid supplies for basic injuries. Mobile health and nutrition teams were put in place to maintain a lifeline of health and nutrition services through the winter months. Despite the ban on female workers in NGOs and INGOs, women who work in health and nutrition services can, for the most part, continue working.
UNICEF also provides targeted cash transfers. These play an important role in meeting critical immediate needs, enabling caregivers to avoid making harsh choices when faced with shocks and crises, and helping families to keep children safe and healthy. Humanitarian cash transfers also help preserve the dignity of recipients by allowing caregivers flexibility in how they spend.
More than a decade of humanitarian crises and hostilities has left children in Syria facing one of the most complex emergencies in the world. Two-thirds of the population require assistance due to the worsening economic crisis, continued localized hostilities, mass displacement and devastated public infrastructure. Harsh winters with freezing temperatures and heavy rains only exacerbate the threats to the country’s children.
For families living in urban areas where the housing infrastructure has been devastated, simply fending off the cold can be an almost surmountable challenge. This is especially the case for the large numbers of Syrian families who continue to reside in makeshift tents in overcrowded displacement sites, particularly in northern Syria.
UNICEF launched its winter response in August 2022, before the cold weather set in, registering highly vulnerable female-headed families, families with children with disabilities or orphan children living in urban slums for cash assistance. The unconditional cash transfers are aimed at families with children in urban and peri-urban areas during wintertime and help them pay for essential items. In the northwest, UNICEF and partners are also providing heaters and fuel for heating in schools and learning spaces and repairing and insulating windows to provide children an opportunity to continue learning during harsh winter weather.
Help UNICEF reach more children in need. Please donate.
This article originally appeared on UNICEF.org.