THE BLOG

As Winter Hits We Cannot Leave Syrian Children in the Cold

09/12/2014 08:08 GMT | Updated 07/02/2015 10:59 GMT

As a young boy growing up in South Wales, I remember dreaming of white Christmases and the excitement of the first snowfall. For the millions of children affected by the ongoing crisis in Syria, however, winter brings a new and terrible danger - the cold.

This time last year I travelled to the Bekaa Valley in Lebanon to see how Unicef, the world's leading children's organisation, is keeping Syrian children safe and warm as the temperatures plummet.

Nothing could have prepared me for the heartbreaking situation I encountered; the conditions for families living in these informal camps were just horrendous. It's not somewhere that anyone should have to call a home, especially not a child.

The over-crowded and unsanitary conditions need just one storm to set off a terrible chain reaction. The cold weather already makes children susceptible to respiratory infections like pneumonia. Shacks don't have heating and, as the relentless rain pours down, the river floods and water washes through the filthy conditions bringing the risk of a disease outbreak. Combined with higher food prices in the winter season, malnutrition, especially for the youngest children, is a real threat.

The numbers are staggering. Over seven million children in Syria and across the region are in urgent need of aid and inside Syria the picture is just as bleak. Up to a million children are trapped by fighting inside the country, cut off from lifesaving supplies. In countries like Lebanon, Jordan and Iraq, more than one and a half million child refugees are struggling to cope in absolutely devastating conditions. Many families arrived in the summer months, escaping Syria with just the clothes on their backs. Winters in the region can be unforgiving; the desert freezes and temperatures can drop as low as minus six.

Since my visit the number of children in danger and desperate need of help has increased by more than two million, whilst the crisis in Iraq is worsening the humanitarian situation across the entire region.

Aid agencies like Unicef are doing what they can - working to deliver potentially life-saving warm winter clothes and shoes, as well as education and psychological support.

The winter kits I saw being distributed cost less than £25, and include sturdy boots, warm jackets, woolly scarves, hats, gloves, and trousers. Seeing the children opening these boxes and being able to put these clothes on was an incredible example of how such small, inexpensive things can make a huge difference.

Beyond the physical toll of their circumstances, the long-term impact of the conflict is equally devastating. Children have witnessed horrific violence. I spoke to young girls and boys who had seen family and friends killed in front of them. Others have been out of school for nearly three years, with their future prospects hanging in the balance. Children who already appear to have lost everything are on the brink of losing more.

As this crisis rolls on towards its fifth year, there is a danger that we become numb to the situation; we start to think that maybe things are getting better or that there is no way we can help; that the situation is just too complicated.

Of course a peaceful political solution is vital and we need to keep up essential negotiations, however, right now, every one of us can play a part in stepping up aid and bringing in children from the cold. We must not turn away.

Unicef will not rest until they reach every child caught in this crisis. It's one of the few organisations working inside Syria as well as delivering humanitarian aid across the region. I have seen how Unicef is working round the clock to keep Syria's children safe and warm.

But they cannot do it alone. They need our support and from now until the end of January, every pound that the UK public donates will be matched by the UK Government, helping Unicef to keep twice as many Syrian children safe and warm this winter.

Up until 30 January 2015, the UK government will match pound for pound all public donations made to Unicef's work for the children of Syria. Text HAT to 70755 to give £3 or visit unicef.org.uk/Syria

Texts cost £3 plus one message at your standard network rate.