Help save the children, victims of war

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A huge number of the victims of this war - the dead, the maimed and the dispossessed - are children. The figures are stark.

Of the 615 people so far confirmed dead, Save The Children says that almost half are children. They make up one third of the 3,225 injured, and about 45 per cent of the nearly one million Lebanese refugees are under the age of 18, according to Unicef.

But despite the shocking images and the harrowing accounts of suffering, there is an acute shortfall of money raised for the children caught up in the conflict. They need help now.

The Independent and Save the Children are launching an appeal for the children of Lebanon (see below), for urgent food, medicine and clothing desperately needed as the violence continues to escalate.

The UN and aid agencies say it is unclear why so many casualties in this particular war are children. Some have been victims of mass killings, such as the 37 who died in the Israeli bombing raid in Qana at the weekend that claimed 60 lives.

The disproportionately high death toll among children may be due to the fact that Lebanese families in the south of the country, the scene of the fiercest fighting, are traditionally large. It is also perhaps because of demographics - 30 per cent of the population of Lebanon are under 18.

The high rate of killings and injuries among the young are also said to be due to the fact that they tend to huddle together during the bombing and shelling.

Like the old, the children are the hardest hit by the lack of basic sustenance. They are also simply too young to make the long journey on foot to escape the combat zone. Children have been discovered left to look after younger brothers and sisters in place of dead or wounded parents.

Amelia Bookstein, the head of humanitarian policy at Save the Children, said: "Children who are wounded, separated from their families, or traumatised, may be too frightened or unable to leave their homes."

Anis Salem, a Unicef official, said: "Families with four, five and six children are seeking shelter together. Inevitably, a high proportion of children are killed. We estimated even before Qana that 30 per cent of the deaths were children. But it is a very fluid situation and that figure can quickly become redundant."

Save the Children stresses that just £1 will buy candles and matches for a family; £10 will help provide adequate hygiene for a child and £50 will pay for food for a family in the short term. But international agencies say the public response has been surprisingly slow to appeals for funds.

Toby Porter, the emergencies director for Save the Children, said: "We have raised, for example, one eighth of the money raised for the second Java earthquake. One reason for this may be that the political anger over what is happening in Lebanon has overshadowed humanitarian concerns. The controversy over what has happened is hiding the human problems.

"Or it could be that people are rather weary of the Middle East problem because it seems so insurmountable. The fact remains, however, that we have a major crisis with children there at the moment."

Exposure to daily turbulence - the sight and sound of explosions, watching the deaths of people they know - has inevitably left scars on young minds. Parents talk of little girls and boys having nightmares, clinging to them out of fright.

Rania al-Ameri, a child psychologist, pointed out: "It is hardly a surprise that these children are being traumatised. They are seeing things people of their age simply will not see in Europe and America. And this is not something that is short term. These effects will last a long time."

There are other long-term problems.

Even after hostilities cease, many families will have nowhere to go back to with their homes shattered. Schools have been destroyedor are being used to house the displaced. Thousands face the prospect of spending months - perhaps years - in refugee camps. Despite Israeli assurances of a safe passage, the UN and charities are finding it extremely difficult to deliver aid to the south, past Tyre.

As well as the dispossessed in Lebanon, 150,000 have crossed into Syria, a country which already shelters 300,000 Palestinian refugees and 450,000 Iraqis who fled the US-led invasion of that country.

With no prospect of an immediate ceasefire, aid organisations are resigned to the situation getting even worse. They fear the brunt of the suffering will continue to be borne by children.

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