The Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region had 21,284,489 cases of confirmed cases of COVID-19 as of 30 June 2022. Despite a decline in the trend of new cases, several countries entered new waves of the pandemic. In addition to the immediate effects of the pandemic, several countries in the region struggle to address reduced basic services to children as secondary effects of the pandemic.
The effects of the war in Ukraine adds to the complexity of the humanitarian situations in the region. Countries in the region have experienced an unprecedented increase in food prices because of this war. Along with climate-related trends, such as droughts, this situation is threatening nutrition security of children in the context of conflicts and economic deterioration across the region.
UNICEF supported national efforts to ensure continuity in provision of basic services to children. Among others, UNICEF provided support to building capacities of the health systems to respond to the pandemic and continue offering basic health services including vaccination and nutrition to children. UNICEF supported procurement of Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) and Infection Prevention Control (IPC) and remedial education to vulnerable children affected by COVID-19. It further participated in, and assisted national efforts in engaging communities and reaching communities with social behavior change (SBC) interventions.
Situation Overview &amp;amp;amp; Humanitarian Needs
Children in MENA continue to face unprecedented needs and insecurities caused by conflicts, COVID-19 and its socio- economic consequences and the effects of climate change. Protracted humanitarian situations and active conflicts in Iraq, Lebanon, Libya, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen have left more than 58 million people, including about 29.5 million children in need of humanitarian assistance. The effects of climate change and hazards, such as drought, affect girls and boys across the region from Iran, Iraq and Syria to Sudan and Djibouti. Considering a severe drought in the Horn of Africa, in February 2022, UNICEF activated a Level 2 (L2) emergency in Djibouti. Because of this drought, 72,000 people, including about 29,000 children are in need of humanitarian assistance in Djibouti.
Vaccination and novel, less harmful, variants of COVID-19 contributed to a decline in new cases and deaths throughout the region. Despite this, several nations in the region continue to struggle with the secondary socioeconomic repercussions of the COVID-19 pandemic, in addition to the immediate health issues. In Algeria for instance, following a decline in the new COVID-19 cases, the country started reopening. However, with the recent reopening, a steady increase in the number of cases has increased pressure on the health system. The pandemic has also limited access to education and protection services for up to 40,000 children, especially in Sahrawi refugee communities, and constrained maternal and child health services. The pressure exerted by the COVID-19 pandemic and vaccination efforts on the Sahrawi health system requires immediate action to build the capacity of the health sector while limiting the impact on children's rights. In view of the region's current vulnerabilities and national capacities, several nations will continue suffering from these repercussions in the coming years.
The war in Ukraine has contributed to the region’s existing challenges by increasing food prices on the global market. Due to ongoing conflicts, political instability, the COVID-19 pandemic, and the war in Ukraine, MENA is experiencing extraordinary food price increases and low buying power. The number of malnourished children is expected to increase significantly. Girls and boys in the region, especially in Egypt, Lebanon, Libya, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen will be disproportionately affected by the effects of this conflict. According to recent assessments conducted prior to the war in Ukraine, some of these countries were already suffering from economic crisis, or a sharp rise in global food prices in 2021. Since the beginning of the war in Ukraine, food costs have increased by 67 per cent in north-western Syria. This has exacerbated the effects of the conflict in Syria and deteriorated the nutrition situation, especially for children, in the country. In 2022 four countries in the region, Yemen, Sudan, Lebanon, and Syria are classified as famine hot spots (WFP &amp;amp;amp; FAO report, February 2022). Children in Sudan, Yemen, Syria, and Lebanon are at risk of facing the impact of acute food insecurity with Yemen remain at the highest alert level, Sudan and Syria remain countries of particular concern and Lebanon with increasing acute food insecurity.
Affected by the war in Ukraine, in Egypt the inflation rate for food items has reached 24.2 per cent in June 2021 which is almost twice the overall inflation. This is primarily due to fact that Egypt is among the world’s largest importers of wheat and other food products and international food prices have increased over the past months. The increasing trend in fuel prices including gasoline, diesel and kerosene is expected to affect the prices of other commodities. This will affect the socioeconomic situation for marginalised communities including migrants, refugees, and female-headed households. In Tunisia similarly, national poverty, which had already increased from 14 to 21 per cent in 2020, may further deteriorate due to the impacts of the war in Ukraine.
In Libya, uncertainty about the political landscape of the country continued to affect the wellbeing of children. The country suffers from a severe shortage of childhood vaccines due to a delay in purchase of vaccines for 2022. The number of new COVID-19 cases continued to increase during the reporting period. In addition to more than 800,000 Libyans in need of humanitarian assistance, the number of migrants continued to rise in the country. According to the Displacement Tracking Matrix, generated by the International Organization for Migration (IOM), more than 630,000 migrants, including about 38,000 children, reside in Libya.
Source: UN Children's Fund