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UNICEF and ICRC work with Sudan's government to evacuate 297 orphans

ASMA KHALID, HOST:

This next story is an especially grim reminder of the toll of war in Sudan. The United Nations' children's agency says more than 60 children, most of them infants, died in the weeks since fighting erupted in Khartoum. UNICEF says they were at an orphanage that could not keep up with their needs. NPR's Aya Batrawy reports on an operation this week to move nearly 300 children from this orphanage to safety.

AYA BATRAWY, BYLINE: Aid workers say most of the children who died at the Mygoma orphanage in Sudan's capital of Khartoum were just infants. When fighting erupted April 15 between Sudan's military and a heavily armed militia force, the clashes were so fierce that life in the capital came to a standstill. Hospitals were bombed or forced to close. Electricity and water supplies were cut in some areas. People had to shelter at home or join hundreds of thousands fleeing the country. UNICEF's deputy representative in Sudan, Mary Louise Eagleton, says most of the children at Mygoma were under 2 years old. They didn't have enough adults to feed them or hold them after the fighting erupted.

MARY LOUISE EAGLETON: These children have been caught in the conflict - really, in the heart of the conflict in Khartoum - these last six, seven weeks in really, really challenging conditions.

BATRAWY: The U.N. Children's Fund and the International Committee of the Red Cross worked with Sudan's government to evacuate 297 children out of the orphanage this week.

(SHOUTING)

BATRAWY: Video released from the Red Cross shows their vehicles relocating the children outside the capital. They now have electricity, clean water, milk, food and more caregivers. Eight of the children were taken to a hospital for intensive care treatment. Eagleton says the children who perished in the orphanage over the past seven weeks died mostly from fever, dehydration and malnutrition, an indirect result of the war.

EAGLETON: Among the ones who died, as far as we understand, the large majority were under the age of 3 months, so very low birth weight and already very fragile. But then there were insufficient carers at the center because many had to flee with their own families when the fighting started.

BATRAWY: UNICEF says it needs around $840 million to reach more children in Sudan.

EAGLETON: This situation in the orphanage for children is really a microcosm of what's happening at national scale. So when we say 13 million children are in need of critical lifesaving assistance, that's half of the children in Sudan.

BATRAWY: But only a fraction of the U.N.'s overall $3 billion funding appeal for Sudan has so far been met.

Aya Batrawy, NPR News, Dubai.

(SOUNDBITE OF TOM ASHBROOK'S "SOLACE") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Aya Batrawy