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UNICEF responds to needs of children and families caught in Nepal crisis

© Reuters/Latif
Sanjay, 6, peeks out of his family's home during curfew prompted by recent protests in Nepal's capital, Kathmandu.

By Susan Aitkin

KATHMANDU, Nepal, 25 April 2006 – A general strike in Nepal, now in its 20th day, coupled with demonstrations and curfews, is starting to have a significant impact on some of the country’s poorest urban communities. Water shortages and injuries to children in these areas are among UNICEF’s major concerns.

“Access to safe water is now a critical issue,” said UNICEF’s Representative in Nepal, Dr. Suomi Sakai. UNICEF has been assessing the situation in association with the Nepal Red Cross Society. The assessment team has identified water shortages in several communities in Kathmandu Valley, some of which have had to start using water from unsafe sources.

“Diarrhoea is already a top killer of children in Nepal,” noted Dr. Sakai. “Even under normal circumstances, some 45 children die each day from diarrhoea. Water shortages tend to hit the poorest communities who don’t have the means to buy bottled water, and it is these communities whose children are at the most risk.” Through the Red Cross, UNICEF has provided water-purification tablets and powder for areas where unsafe water is being used.

Kathmandu suffers from water shortages at the best of times, and many areas rely on tankers to bring in supplies from water sources outside the city limits. However, it has been very difficult for these tankers to get into the city in recent weeks due to curfews ordered by the government and blockages caused by demonstrations on the ring road surrounding Kathmandu. UNICEF has been in contact with the water-supply authorities about the issue of access for the tankers.

Preventing harm to children

Meanwhile, UNICEF and seven non-governmental partner organizations involved in human rights and child protection issued a joint statement yesterday expressing deep concern at the number of children injured in the recent demonstrations. The statement asked organizers of rallies to actively discourage children from taking part in any protests that have the potential to become violent, and to ensure that children are kept from hazardous activities such as stone-throwing. UNICEF and the other organizations also called on security forces to be especially careful not to injure children.

The statement reminded those involved in organizing demonstrations and policing them that they have a responsibility, under the Convention on the Rights of the Child, to ensure that children are not harmed.

Yesterday’s statement followed a report by one of the signatory groups, Child Workers in Nepal, which found that more than 180 children had been injured – 3 of them seriously – in Kathmandu Valley between 6 and 20 April. Of the 95 cases where details were available, 13 children had been injured by firearms. Twenty-three children had received head injuries, 7 had been injured in the eyes and 2 had received fractures. Sixteen of the children were under the age of 13, and another 28 were between 13 and 16 years old.

Reports on vitamin A drive

Despite difficulties caused by the recent unrest, UNICEF and its partners carried out a national vitamin A distribution 19 and 20 April, and preliminary reports on its success have come in from 10 of the 58 municipalities involved.

Most of the 10, including the larger cities such as Kathmandu, reported reaching more than 80 per cent of targeted children with immunity-boosting vitamin A supplements. But some areas – such as Leknath municipality in Kaski district, which was under a curfew on the first day of the distribution – recorded less than 60 per cent coverage.

“As soon as the curfew is lifted, a rapid assessment will be conducted in six districts which have the lowest coverage,” said Dr. Sakai. A household coverage survey will also be conducted in 10 to 15 randomly selected districts to estimate vitamin A coverage at the national level, she added.

“Once the situation improves,” continued Dr. Sakai, “a media campaign will be launched to encourage those families whose children did not receive the supplementation to visit the nearest health facility to receive their vitamin A. This vitamin is critical to child survival in Nepal, and the national distribution saves some 12,000 lives a year.”



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