03/12/2013 02:28 EDT | Updated 05/12/2013 05:12 EDT

Syria's children to become 'lost generation'

A UNICEF report released today says children affected by the crisis in Syria have become "a lost generation,” with over half of the four million displaced 18-years-old or younger.

The report, titled Syria’s Children: A Lost Generation? described a desperate situation for children who have been affected by the conflict in Syria. It draws upon UNICEF’s direct experience working in the region combined with data released by the UN Refugee Agency.

“Because children make up at least 50 per cent of affected people inside [Syria] and in refugee camps... we are looking at an entire generation that has experienced something truly awful,” said Simon Ingram, head of communications for UNICEF in the Middle East and North Africa.

Estimates made in late 2012 found that out of the four million people inside Syria that have been affected, almost two million are children. Furthermore, out of the two million displaced outside of Syria, children make up approximately 800,000, or 40 per cent.

The report emphasized that the current numbers are “most likely much higher.”

- RELATED: Syria’s civil war: key facts, important players

Situation reaching 'point of no return’

As the crisis in Syria enters its third year this month, Ingram described the situation as “dire” on all fronts.

“Conflict is spreading, families and children are being displaced inside the country, and more and more are flooding outside of the country,” Ingram told CBC from his office in Jordan.

Yet the situation for children has become particularly grim.

According to a report released by the United Nations Human Rights Council last month, children (defined as 18-years-old or younger) face “widespread violation of their rights”

Children are maimed, killed and orphaned and sexually assaulted by fighting factions, and are frequently seized at checkpoints by the rebel forces, to be enlisted into combat and other roles, such as guards, stated the UN report.

The UNICEF report’s findings emphasized the deteriorating health and social situation of those 18-years-old or younger, listing a series of troubling findings:

- Health clinics that have not already been destroyed have difficulty delivering care.

- Clean water and sanitation is “scarce,” currently a third of what it was before the crisis.

- One in every five schools has been destroyed, damaged or converted into shelters by displaced people.

For these reasons, the report said the crisis is reaching “a point of no return, with long-term consequences…including the risk of a ‘lost generation’ of Syrian children.”

“It’s gone beyond the point where it’s a simple question of patching things up,” said Ingram. “It’s a question of rebuilding from the bottom up – and how difficult that will be with a traumatized and distraught population of children who have not been educated or brought up as they should have been.”

Financial resources ‘nowhere near enough’

Despite the international community’s efforts to improve the situation, funding is falling short.

“The financial resources are nowhere near enough,” said Ingram. “If more funding is not forthcoming, we will not be able to continue dealing the amount of assistance we’re doing even today, which is already not sufficient to help the affected population.”

According to the UNICEF report, funds required to help children in the region are estimated at over $127 million, with over $68 million needed for Syria alone.

UNICEF has appealed for more than $195 million US to help affected people in Syria, Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey and Egypt until the end June 2013. The reported says that so far, 20 per cent of this goal has been funded.

Last month’s UN Human Rights Council report also stated that funding had fallen short. By the end of December, two of its humanitarian assistance appeals for those in need both in and outside of Syria had been funded 69 per cent and 59 per cent.

UNICEF said it may be forced to end a number of “key life-saving interventions” by the end of this month if funding targets are not met. This includes, water and sanitation services, measles and polio immunization campaigns, neonatal interventions and emergency medical care.

No end in sight

Syria's turmoil began with protests against President Bashar al-Assad's regime in March 2011. A year and a half later, the International Red Cross formally declared it a civil war.

Earlier this month, the United Nations refugee agency chief, António Guterres, said Syrian refugee numbers could increase by up to two or three times by the end of 2013 if Syria's civil war continues.

Approximately 70,000 people have been killed so far with civilians frequently caught in the middle.

In mid-February it was reported that government forces fired ballistic missiles into residential areas of Syria's commercial capital, Aleppo, and a nearby town. Human Rights Watch described it as a "new low" in the war and estimated the death toll from the missile strikes at 141.

In an article last week, CBC’s Daniel Schwartz reported that such acts of violence have divided the country.

The Sunni majority mostly supports the rebels, while the Christian minority, the Shia and the Alawites generally support the government, wrote Schwartz. And the Kurds, who represent 10 per cent of the country’s population, are thought to be on the rebel side.

As these multiple factions war against one another, the situation for children will only worsen, said Ingram.

“The question of saving lives is the number one consideration that drives us now — the children whose futures are at risk every day,” he said. “It’s a life and death situation for literally millions of Syrian children.”