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UNICEF Sudan: 165,000 Wishes for 2014

By Stephen Blight, UNICEF Sudan

As I write this, ‘winter’ is descending on a usually sweltering Khartoum. For just a few weeks every year the whole country thinks it’s just about to snow outside and they don scarves, jackets and balaclavas, despite the fact that the temperature will never go below double digits. So for a Canadian like me, it feels like I could be back home – celebrating the New Year.

But today I am finding it hard to look back on the year and remember all the challenges and achievements – despite the fact that there have been many here in Sudan for the children we work for.

The reason is that for two years now here at UNICEF Sudan, our wishes have not come true.

Just like two years ago, this year we have not just one wish, but 165,000. And while it may seem greedy, we don’t think it’s a lot to ask for.

Our 165,000 wishes are for 165,000 children living in the conflict zones of Blue Nile and South Kordofan states to the south of the country. For over two years these children have gone unvaccinated. Without a break in the fighting, we cannot reach these children to protect them against preventable diseases. As polio spreads across Syria and the Horn of Africa, these children are at very real and alarming risk of contracting this disease.

Right now, these children’s everyday reality is littered with bombs, with weapons and with brutal fighting. Many don’t have the basic things they need to survive, some are even forced to seek shelter in caves. And now they face the looming threat of preventable diseases that they have a right to be protected from.

Our brave and committed colleagues in South Kordofan face the dangers of conflict every day too. Last month, shelling around our offices forced them to work from a bunker. We don’t know when it will be safe for them to return to the office.

The children of Blue Nile and South Kordofan have no such bunker and are living each day in fear. This is what drives us to keep working for these children, and we will not stop until we can reach them.

Each one of these children not only deserves, but has the right, to so much more than to be protected against polio. They need access to healthcare, to school and a safe place to play. My wish for them to be vaccinated against polio is just the start.

For the past few months our team have been preparing plans, logistics, vaccines and more plans to ensure we are ready to mobilise and reach these children within 48 hours. Now, all we wait for is agreement by both parties to the conflict to put down their weapons for just a few days so we can go in and reach these children. My colleagues and I had our bags packed and were ready to go in case we were called back from holidays.

But I would not have minded one bit, as it would have meant every one of my wishes for the New Year will finally come true.

Children in Sudan’s conflict-affected regions are at risk of contracting polio if they can’t be reached with vaccines. © UNICEF

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