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At least 29 million children live in poverty in the Middle East, North Africa

One in four children in the Middle East and North Africa are living in poverty. Almost half of all children live in inadequate housing while a third live in households without tap water.

At least 29 million children live in poverty in the Middle East and North Africa, according to a recent UNICEF analysis covering 11 countries in the region. That number shows that one in four children are missing minimum requirements in two or more of the most basic life necessities like nutritious food, clean water, education, healthcare and decent housing.

“Child poverty is about so much more than family income – it’s about access to quality education, healthcare, a home and safe water. When children are deprived of the basics, they are at risk of getting trapped in a vicious cycle of poverty,” said Geert Cappelaere, UNICEF Regional Director for the Middle East and North Africa.


UNICEF warns that while efforts have been made over the years with notable results as to drive down the number of children living in poverty, countries in the region, faced with ongoing violence and war, have registered a rapid regression. This, combined with the fact that states in the area do not regularly provide data or such endeavours are thwarted by war, makes specialists say that the number of children living in poverty is actually higher than the estimates.

The analysis highlights that one-quarter of children aged 5 to 17 are not enrolled in school or have fallen two grades behind. Often enough they live in households headed by an uneducated family member and this makes them twice as likely to live in poverty. This provides fuel to the vicious circle trapping Africa’s and Middle Eastern children.

Poverty prevents them from getting an education, and without education, there is little hope of escaping poverty as the study shows that education is the key to fighting against inequality and poverty.

Almost half of all children live in inadequate housing with poor flooring and overcrowding and for more than one-third of the children, their household does come with tap water. One in five children is forced to walk more than 30 minutes to fetch water or use unsafe drinking water.

Without access to clean and safe water, suffering from lack of nutritious food, children’s health is in peril. And as countries fail to provide good quality healthcare, the situation is made worse by the fact that children are not fully immunised or were born to mothers who did not get enough antenatal care or birth assistance.

UNICEF is asking for a better understanding of the situation in states from North Africa and the Middle East else policies and help will fail to actually address child poverty effectively. Countries, civil societies and companies have to come together if any progress is to be made in order to help the children.

“The return on investing in the most vulnerable children now is a peaceful and prosperous region in the future,” said Cappelaere. “It takes a combination of true leadership and courageous public and private investment from governments, civil society, the private sector, individuals and the international community”.



Sylvia Jacob