You might have seen it in the news. Hellish images of conflict, smoke-filled skies and families on the run.

The battle to retake the city of Mosul, Iraq, from the so-called Islamic State (ISIL) is leaving more than half a million children on the brink of a humanitarian catastrophe.

There’s not much good to come from this unfolding tragedy but we can be thankful for one thing: thousands of children are getting emergency support and protection.

Here are just three ways UNICEF is responding.


1. Supplying clean water, toilets and sanitation

Fatima , 10, washes her face at a water tank provided by UNICEF in Tinah Camp © UNICEF/UN034964/Anmar

As ISIL is driven from towns around Mosul, UNICEF is reaching communities with essential supplies.

Our teams and partners are overcoming terrible road conditions, blinding clouds of dust and the dangerously close frontline to distribute bottled water and hygiene kits with buckets, soap and detergent to thousands of families.

We’re also preparing displacement camps with safe water supplies, toilets and sanitation for the growing number of people who urgently need shelter from escalating violence.

2. Providing safe spaces for children to learn, play and recover

Children take part in summer school education activities at a temporary tent site in Debaga Camp. © UNICEF/UN036092/Mackenzie

Children in Mosul have been trapped under ISIL’s terror for much of their young lives. Many have witnessed unimaginable violence, experienced harsh persecution and missed out on school at a critical time in their development.

Haitham, 12, said he hadn’t been to school for almost two years. “The only school I could go to was a Daesh school,” he said, using the local term for the so-called Islamic State. “They only wanted to teach us how to use guns,” he continued, pretending to shoot with his hands. “But I didn’t want to. I don’t want to use guns, I don’t like guns.” All he wanted was to go back to a normal school.

Now, as these boys and girls flee into camps, UNICEF’s ‘child-friendly spaces’ are helping them learn, play and simply be kids again.

Each tent is a safe and welcoming place where children can escape from the chaos that swirls around them. A chance to get psychosocial care and recover from the profound stress of war. A place filled with songs, games and budding friendships.

3. Vaccinating children against deadly outbreaks of disease

A child receives a dose of oral polio vaccine from a health worker in Baghdad's Al-Takya Al-Kasnazaniya Camp for displaced Iraqi families. © UNICEF/UN017004/Khuzaie

It’s been two years since children trapped in Mosul were vaccinated against measles or polio. Now, as they shelter in crowded camps, they’re vulnerable to the deadly outbreaks that can thrive in these crisis conditions.

UNICEF is racing to vaccinate every last child in camps around Mosul and we’ve launched a massive, nationwide campaign to protect all of Iraq’s children against polio. Drop by drop, we’re working with our partners to reach 5.8 million children in five days.

Huge challenges ahead

Following the on-going hostilities in the northern Iraqi city of Mosul, newly arrived refugees on the way to the Al-Hol camp, close to the Iraqi border in Syria’s north-eastern Hasakeh Governorate. © UNICEF/UN037298/Soulaiman

In this terribly volatile situation it’s hard to predict the days and weeks ahead. UNICEF is adapting to rapidly changing circumstances and trying to keep pace with the humanitarian surge.

We do know this crisis will only get worse - much worse.

Since the offensive began against ISIL militants, at least 17,5000 people have fled from the violence. And as forces close in on densely populated areas of Mosul, we expect at least another 200,000 people to be forced from their homes. The worse-case scenario would be one million people on the move.

We need to be ready for whatever comes but we don’t have the supplies to reach every child.

You can help our teams respond rapidly for more children right across Iraq and wherever they most need our help in this regional crisis.

Children trapped in war and crisis simply cannot wait: please give generously now.

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