Unicef launches record $2.8 billion appeal to help kids

GENEVA (AFP) - Unicef launched a record US$2.2 billion (S$2.8 billion) aid appeal on Friday to help tens of millions of children around the world, saying the lion's share was to deal with the Syria war.

"Children are always the most vulnerable group in emergencies, facing a high risk of violence, exploitation, disease and neglect," said Mr Ted Chaiban, head of emergency operations at the UN children's agency.

The appeal outstripped the call for US$1.4 billion made by Unicef at the beginning of 2013, and which was revised to US$1.7 billion in October.

Unicef said that 40 per cent of the money it was asking for would be destined to tackle the impact of Syria's civil war.

Children make up a major proportion of the millions of Syrians driven from their homes by the vicious conflict, and who have either headed to other parts of the country or flooded across the borders to neighbouring Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan and Iraq.

All told, Unicef said it aims to provide humanitarian aid to 59 million children in 50 war- and disaster-stricken countries this year, as well as 26 million adults.

Mr Chaiban has just returned from South Sudan - the world's youngest country and one of its poorest - where fighting broke out between government and rebel forces in December.

Over 400,000 children and their families have been displaced by the conflict there.

"The rainy season is coming and we need to pre-position supplies and reinforce essential services, for which we need urgent funding to prevent a catastrophe," said Mr Chaiban.

"The children of South Sudan join millions of others affected by conflict in the Central African Republic and Syria," he added.

"But while today's headlines focus on these complex, under-funded crises, many other desperate situations also require immediate funding and urgent humanitarian assistance," he said, citing Afghanistan, Colombia, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Myanmar, Somalia and Yemen.

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