UNICEF works in 22 countries and territories in Europe and Central Asia Region1 (ECAR) and is present in Italy, targeting refugee and migrant populations.
Since mid-March in ECAR, COVID-19 cases increased in Armenia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Moldova, North Macedonia and Serbia. Montenegro has the highest rate of confirmed cases at 14,582 per 100,000 population, followed by a rate of 7,039 cases per 100,00 population in Georgia.
UNICEF Europe and Central Asia Regional Office (ECARO) continues to focus on enhancing emergency preparedness and response capacity and strengthening risk-informed programmes that build resilience. Furthermore, ECARO’s response to COVID-19 continues to focus on preventing transmission of COVID-19 and mitigating the impacts on vulnerable children and families. This entails strengthening systems and services and supporting relevant supply provision in the areas of social protection, education, health, WASH, risk communication education, nutrition and providing protection to at-risk children and adolescents.
During the reporting period, more than 184,000 children and women accessed primary health care. Almost 9 million children benefitted from formal and non-formal education. Around 341,000 children and caregivers accessed mental health and psychosocial services (MHPSS). Approximately 307,000 people benefitted through national cash transfer systems with technical support from UNICEF.
In 2021, UNICEF ECAR has received $7.5 million out of an appeal just under $72 million. With an additional $8.3 million of carried forward from the previous year, a funding gap of 78% remains. UNICEF ECAR acknowledges and appreciates the generous contributions from all public and private sector donors.
Regional Funding Overview & Partnerships
Under UNICEF’s Humanitarian Action for Children (HAC) for Europe and Central Asia, UNICEF is appealing for a little less than $72 million. At the end of this reporting period, ECAR has raised nearly $7.5 million, or 22% of the required funding. UNICEF gratefully acknowledges donors whose contributions were received during the reporting period: the European Union, the Government of Japan, United Nations Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF), Multi-Donor Trust Fund (MDTF), the United Kingdom, GAVI Vaccine Alliance, USA Centres for Disease Control (CDC), Global Thematic Humanitarian Funds as well as from the UNICEF National Committees in Germany, the Netherlands, Slovakia, and Slovenia and from UNICEF’s private sector fund raising efforts in Croatia and Romania.
At country level, UNICEF works closely with other UN agencies, particularly WHO and UNDP, GAVI, governments and line ministries, NGOs and civil society to conduct assessments of the impact of COVID-19 on children and their families and develop and implement strategic action plans to mitigate the impacts of the pandemic and other emergencies.
Regional Situation Overview & Humanitarian Needs
During the first quarter of 2021, there were 13.2 million confirmed cases and 259,267 deaths from COVID-19 in the ECA countries. 2 Montenegro had the highest rate of confirmed cases at 14,582 per 100,000 population followed by 7,039 per 100,000 population in Georgia. Serbia, Armenia, Croatia, North Macedonia, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Moldova saw a sharp increase in confirmed cases starting from mid-March. The emergence and spread of new variants of the COVID19 virus has contributed to the continued increase in reported cases, which currently stands at almost double the cumulative cases of 7.7 million that were reported by the end of 2020 .
As a precautionary measure, the Government of Moldova declared a State of Emergency from April until the end of May. The governments in Azerbaijan, Montenegro, Serbia and Turkey imposed partial lockdowns, curfews, travel bans and closures of businesses. The health facilities in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Montenegro, North Macedonia and Serbia faced pressures on capacity as efforts continued to contain transmission. The implementation of contact tracing and public compliance with preventive measures such social distancing remained matters of concern. As the COVID-19 vaccines are being rolled out, UNICEF, WHO and other partners are supporting governments to combat vaccination hesitancy. By the end of the reporting period, all countries in the region started vaccination, although not all vaccines were delivered by the COVAX facility. The following countries received doses from COVAX: Albania, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Georgia, Kosovo*, Moldova, Montenegro, North Macedonia, Serbia, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. 4 Until end March, overall 1,289,220 doses of vaccines have been delivered by COVAX. Only 2 countries (Kyrgyzstan and Ukraine) in the region had not yet received vaccines from COVAX facility5 .
Due to lockdown measures and continued school closures throughout 2020 and into 2021, many children have been impacted by considerable learning loss and have experienced negative effects on their physical and mental development. Many schools that had resumed face-to-face classes in January/February closed again in March. The closure or partial closure of schools in Azerbaijan, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Greece, Italy, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan,
Montenegro, North Macedonia and Serbia has affected more than 50 million children. 6 While many children without access to internet and digital technologies could not easily access online education, some countries, including North Macedonia, Turkey and Uzbekistan disseminated lessons through television and through the provision of printed learning materials. Lockdown measures also increased risk of exposure to gender-based violence (GBV), exploitation and abuse. Increased cases of violence at home and risks of child abandonment were reported in Albania, Kazakhstan,
Kyrgyzstan and Ukraine.
In some countries, the pandemic also continued to impact routine immunization among children due to suspended or limited routine health services. Montenegro for example continued to report the lowest national immunization coverage rates for MMR1 which had decreased below 23.9% in 2020 from 42.1% in 2018 (latest public report). During the reporting period, UNICEF continued supporting countries in catching up children with their routine immunisation schedules.
With the closure of businesses and loss of jobs, the economic impacts on families continued to adversely affect the wellbeing of children including increasing deprivations due to poverty. Economic activity in the region is estimated to have contracted by 2.9% in 2020 in the wake of disruptions related to the COVID-19 pandemic. In all, the pandemic is estimated to push an additional 2.2 million under the $3.20 a day poverty line in the region, with household surveys in some countries, particularly in Central Asia, reporting an uptick in food insecurity.The region remained prone to natural hazards, with the two earthquakes which occurred at the end of 2020 in Croatia continuing to affect over 70,000 people. Numerous aftershocks increased fear and anxiety of residents and caused further damage to the houses and buildings, with the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic further compounded the vulnerabilities of affected families.