Bill Frist, MD
As you may know, an armed conflict broke out on August 7 in South Ossetia between Georgia and Russia-backed South Ossetian military. UNHCR estimates that more than 100,000 children and families have been displaced from their homes since the fighting began a week ago. Many of these families are sheltering with families and friends, while others are sheltering at schools, which are closed for summer break. Our staff report that that the number of internally displaced persons (IDPs) officially registered with the government climbed to 18,000 today from 2,000 yesterday.
Save the Children is very concerned about the safety and well-being of the children caught in the crossfires of this conflict and uprooted from their homes. Just hours after the conflict broke out, we began mobilizing our 41 person staff on the ground in Georgia to launch a humanitarian response. We deployed staff to conduct rapid needs assessments at various IDP sites in eastern Georgia, and the results of these assessments, which are starting to come in, will help us determine how to broaden and focus our response over the next few days and weeks. Some of the areas hardest hit by the conflict, including Hkodori, Gori and Tskhinvali, are still inaccessible to humanitarian organizations.
Earlier today a ceasefire agreement was reached by all parties involved in the conflict. Part of the agreement included a provision that would allow humanitarian groups unhindered access to provide humanitarian relief. This is encouraging news, but we know that our work is far from done. Until families feel safe and secure enough to return to their homes, they will need life-saving supplies.
We are preparing to reach 3,500 children and families affected by the crisis at 11 IDP sites, with an immediate focus on clean water, food and shelter. We also are putting together household, basic health and hygiene kits to be distributed to families in need. In addition, we have purchased medical supplies for hospitals that are running short of these critical items. To be most effective in our response, we are coordinating our efforts with UN agencies and other international and local non-governmental organizations, and are partnering with local organizations with whom we’ve worked with previously to help us in distributing aid to conflict-affected families.
With support from Save the Children UK, we have already released $100,000 (including $50,000 from the Halaby-Murphy Fund) from our general emergency fund for this crisis, but more is needed. To that end, Save the Children has launched an appeal for $1 million which will allow us to reach more children and families with life-saving supplies.
While operating under very challenging conditions, our staff in Georgia is working tirelessly day and night to ensure children’s needs are addressed and met. We deeply appreciate their dedication and commitment to our mission. We are beginning to receive interest from CNN in addition to regional and international media.
To stay up-to-date on our Georgia Children in Crisis response, visit www.savethechildren.org.