In any war, children are affected first and in the worst possible ways.

For Iraq's 12 million children who have grown up under the effects of 12 years' economic sanctions and poor governance, another war will be catastrophic.

During the past 12 years, Iraq has experienced the single largest regression in child mortality in the world.

Under-five mortality has increased by 160 per cent and one in eight Iraqi children now die before reaching their fifth birthday.

Although improved in recent years, almost one third of children in the south and centre of Iraq suffer from chronic malnutrition.

Malnourished children do not typically perish from hunger but when children are weak common childhood ailments become killers.

Unicef, the United Nations Children's Fund, has been racing to bolster the strength of Iraq's children, providing hundreds of tonnes of high-nutrient foods.

Working closely with the Iraqi Ministry of Health, Unicef has provided more than 1,000 metric tonnes of high-energy biscuits and therapeutic milk, distributed at 63 nutrition centres throughout the country.

Unicef also stepped up its routine immunisation programme, vaccinating four million children against measles and polio, diseases that can spread rapidly when populations are displaced.

With two out of every three deaths in Iraq caused by diarrhoea and respiratory infections, a safe supply of clean water is crucial to child survival.

But a quarter of Iraq's population is already denied this and, for the remainder, the water supply is now at great risk of being disrupted.

Unicef has pre- positioned enough supplies to provide 600,000 people with clean water as well as overhauling standby generators at water-treatment plants.

Unicef has been working in Iraq since 1953 and is one of the few agencies with a continuous presence on the ground since the Eighties.

Its team of Iraqi national staff is continuing to work in the country.

With war in Iraq, the needs of children there are urgent and I am appealing to readers to help us meet them.

Just £25 will provide enough therapeutic feeding for 350 children, while £50 could help save the lives of 300 children suffering from cholera or dysentery by treating them with oral rehydration salts.

Donations, payable to Unicef, can be sent to Unicef's Children of Iraq Emergency Appeal, PO Box 264, Brighton BN2 9YT

-David Speirs, regional fundraising manager, Unicef, South East