|UNICEF is urging all parties involved in the conflict in Cote d’Ivoire to protect children and their families|
ABIDJAN, Cote d’Ivoire/NEW YORK, 16 November 2004 - Large parts of Cote d’Ivoire are without water and electricity as the civil unrest that erupted two weeks ago continues. UNICEF warns that children are facing life-threatening diseases from being forced to drink unsafe water. The risk of diarrhoea and cholera epidemics is increasing.
“The situation in the north right now is precarious,” says UNICEF Cote d’Ivoire communications officer Jeff Brez. “The longer that this situation continues – the insecurity and instability and this devastating lack of electricity and water - the more the humanitarian situation will deteriorate.”
Trouble flared in the region when the government broke a year-long ceasefire and attacked the former rebels, who are now known as the ‘New Forces’. The UN Security Council has imposed an arms embargo and given all parties a month to start peace negotiations.
The threat of violence means that many vulnerable children can’t be reached. In spite of the dangers, UNICEF has managed to get medical supplies and essential drugs to 68 health centres in and around Bouake, the country’s second-largest city. The electricity cuts are also threatening to destroy Bouake’s vital stock of measles and tetanus vaccinations, which need to be kept in cold storage. UNICEF is providing gas bottles as emergency fuel for refrigerators and freezers.
Schools across the country have closed, disrupting exams and increasing the risk that children will become involved in the conflict and exposed to abuse and exploitation.
“This is a big concern for us,” says Mr. Brez. “School is not only where children learn and develop their full potential, it also protects them in a situation like this. If they are not in school they are much more likely to perhaps participate in demonstrations and get mixed up in the violence. ”
UNICEF is calling on the government to restore water and electricity supplies and ensure that hospitals and schools can function properly. The organization is also appealing to all parties in the conflict to protect the rights of children.