By Mick Krever, CNN
The plight of the 5.5 million children now affected by the war in Syria – more than twice the number than just a year ago – is a national security issue, not just a humanitarian one, UNICEF Executive Director and former U.S. National Security Adviser Anthony Lake.
“These are not statistics. These are human beings, and these are children. And this is, the governments should remember, a strategic issue,” Lake told CNN’s Christiane Amanpour from the devastated Syrian city of Homs.
“So many of them have been traumatized by seeing things no child should ever see,” he said. “I fear that they’re going to grow up with more vengeance than reconciliation.”
Without adequate education and counselling, he said, “in the next generation we’re going to see a replication of the same violence and the same problems that will affect both the region and the world.”
“So this is a question not an issue of humanitarian obligations, but also of strategic self-interest for all of these governments, and they need to step back and understand that.”
This week marks three years since the beginning of the Syrian war, and humanitarian organizations are redoubling their efforts to get the world to respond to, and put an end to, the bloodshed.
The UK organization Save the Children said in a new report that some surgical patients are “opting to be knocked out with metal bars for lack of anaesthesia.”
Lake, speaking with Amanpour with from one of the hardest-hit areas of Syria, painted a devastating picture.
“I just now met with two families who got out of the Old City here in Homs,” he said. “It was horrific. They were facing snipers. They had to move around, when they could move around, in tunnels.”
“They were sending their kids out to go and look in abandoned houses to find little bottles of olives, rotten bread, other things that they could eat. They were eating stray cats.”
“And now they have emerged, some of them – although there are still probably around 2,500 or so left in the Old City. And while I was interviewing these families, I could hear the artillery going as they probably hit the Old City again.”
Even now that they are out, he said, they lack the jobs or even official documents needed to survive.
“While I felt pity for them and all they had gone through, even more I felt tremendous admiration for their courage and strength in having survived this. And I think what they need now is support, not simply pity.”
UNICEF says hundreds of thousands of children in Syria have been enrolled in leaning programs, with tens of thousands more refugees outside the country. But UNICEF’s programs are only 8% funded.
“We are doing everything we can, but pray God somehow the world can put a stop to this.”
Can they put an end to it, Amanpour asked.
“I think they must. They can, and they must. Whether they will, will be up to the political will in all the capitals to remember that this is not simply an abstract diplomatic issue. This is an issue of human lives, and the futures of all of these children, and of Syria itself and the region.”
“If these children don’t grow up to repair these wounds, then who is going to?”