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Roma families need rehousing to save children from lead poisoning

Robert Fuderich, UNICEF Head of Office in the UN Administered Province of Kosovo, at Osterode Camp, 10 February 2006.

I would like to echo Mr. Ivanovic’s concern and plea for all residents of Zikovac, Cezmin Lug and Kablar to relocate to Osterode.  As we are all aware, the children of all three camps have already registered blood lead levels that are unprecedented in history.  We have all heard of the dangers of lead contamination and the attention that this is receiving is testament of the severity of this problem and, I must add, the injustice that you have faced over the last six years.  A high lead blood level not only leads to many mental and physical problems, it can also cause death. 

Young children under five years of age and unborn foetuses are the most vulnerable. Although a number of measures are being undertaken at the existing camps as well as a health and hygiene campaign implemented by UNICEF and WHO, no amount of remediation, no additional teaching can save these children.  The only solution now is relocation to a safer location.

As all of us here can see, UNMIK has done an outstanding job renovating this temporary site. The accommodation is heated; there is electricity and sanitation. There is a community centre, a kindergarten and playground, a women’s centre and a medical facility. One of the most important features is that the ground is paved so that the surface can be hosed down to wash away any lead dust particles from the surrounding area.

There is still a lot more to do.  Children must undergo chelation therapy to remove this poison from their blood.  A proper facility for this process and a convalescence centre are planned.  I also want to be very clear: Osterode is a temporary site to accommodate residents of Cezmin Lug, Zitkovac and Kablar while Roma Mahala is rebuilt and other more permanent accommodations can be provided.

The best hope for children

Some say it is too late but we know there is hope for these children if they are moved now.  For the best interests of your children, please think carefully about their future and relocate.  UNICEF, along with other agencies that you have worked with throughout the years, will do all it can to ensure that this new location will be safe, healthy and comfortable. 

If you are concerned that you will be forgotten, I personally will do all in my power as the head of UNICEF to ensure that this is not the case. Although we hear of agencies that will move on as we get closer to a solution on the status of this province, UNICEF is here for the long haul and for your children.

What we have now is a serious health emergency and we all have to put politics aside and act in the best interests of the child.  We finally have a temporary solution to this awful tragedy. I urge the camp leadership, the parents, fathers, mothers to move now, and I urge the surrounding community, politicians and civil servants to support this move and open their hearts to those who have been victimized over the years.  I also urge the donor community not to forget…we are on the road to a permanent solution and the first step is to evacuate these camps.  Again, in the best interest of your children,  relocate. A safer, healthier place has been reconstructed and UNICEF, the international community and your political leaders will be with you.

For more information:

Angela Hawke, Communication Officer, CEE/CIS. Tel: (4122) 909 5433. email: ahawke@unicef.org

 

 
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