The Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region had 15,725,344 million laboratory-confirmed cases and 278,541 deaths from COVID-19 as of 31 December 2021. Direct and indirect effects of the COVID-19 pandemic as well as the escalation of conflicts in Yemen, and protracted humanitarian situation in Iraq, Libya, Sudan and Syria continued to have an impact on the lives and wellbeing of the region’s most vulnerable children.
In response to the COVID-19 crisis, UNICEF supported national efforts to address the pandemic’s immediate effects and ensured the continuity of essential services for disadvantaged children in vulnerable communities.
UNICEF advocated for school reopenings and in-person learning opportunities and provided assistance in ensuring vulnerable children’s access to safe learning environment. Despite certain constraints, it supported national initiatives for quality distance learning.
UNICEF used COVID-19 to advocate for child-friendly social protection schemes as well as to strengthen national efforts to address children’s immediate needs and build shock-responsive and resilient systems.
Situation Overview & Humanitarian Needs
Throughout 2021, people in the MENA region were affected by COVID-19 pandemic. The region had 15,725,344 million laboratory-confirmed cases and 278,541 deaths as of 31 December 2021. The Islamic Republic of Iran remains the most affected country in the region, with 6,195,403 confirmed cases and 131,639 deaths. Despite national achievements in controlling the infection trends across the region, primarily through national vaccination campaigns, the percentage of the vaccinated population varies significantly across the region. While the United Arab Emirates has the highest vaccination rate in the region, Yemen, Sudan and Syria have some of the lowest vaccination rates in the world. This variance is due to a variety of challenges relating to the access and the administration of the vaccine as well as to populations’ perception of the vaccine.
The COVID-19 pandemic has increased the pressure on already fragile health systems across the region. It has jeopardized the previous decades’ achievements particularly in the areas of child and maternal health. This pandemic has further jeopardized national achievements in children’s access to quality learning opportunities. Prolonged school closures, and the lack of appropriate access to distance learning in various countries resulted in learning losses, increased school dropouts and mental health related challenges for children. This has further exacerbated previously existing inequalities in access to quality learning opportunities in the region particularly for the most vulnerable children such as refugee children.
The pandemic has significantly contributed to the deterioration of the economic situation in countries across the region. This has negatively affected household income and child welfare, especially among the most vulnerable groups, such as refugees, persons with disabilities and the households with lowest income. The negative effects of COVID-19 on both household income and children’s access to education will continue to affect vulnerable children for years to come.
The COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated the complexities of the protracted conflicts and humanitarian situations in the region.
The conflicts and humanitarian situations in Yemen, Sudan and Syria posed new challenges for appropriate responses to the COVID-19 pandemic. The pandemic, in turn, posed additional challenges to the humanitarian operations throughout the region. Meanwhile, the conflict in Yemen has escalated, hostilities in Syria have continued, and political uncertainty in Iraq and Libya has persisted. The coup d’état of 25 October 2021 in Sudan jeopardized the achievements of the previous years and put at risk the country’s progress in the peace process. The ongoing occupation of Palestinian territories, as well as conflicts between Palestinian groups and Israel have had a negative impact on the lives and wellbeing of children in Gaza and in the occupied Palestinian territories. The conflicts in Afghanistan and Ethiopia increased the inflow of asylum seekers to this region. Furthermore, the effects of climate change and environmental degradation, manifested in protracted droughts and flash floods continue to affect the wellbeing of children throughout the region.