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Kenya: UNICEF launches urgent appeal to assist up to 700,000 children

© UNICEF Kenya/2005/Guillaume Bonn
El-Golicha village close to the Somali border, stands empty after an attack. Twenty-two women and children were killed at dawn in a raid by suspected Murule militia.

NAIROBI, 11 October, 2005 – In the face of mounting inter-ethnic violence and ongoing drought UNICEF has launched a polio vaccination campaign in Kenya to prevent the re-emergence of the disease. Over 483,000 children are expected to be immunized during the six-day campaign covering 12 of the country’s most affected districts: the border and coastal regions. The violence, which is affecting mostly the border regions, is making the vaccination campaign even more challenging.

 Kenya has been polio-free since 1984; however a recent resurgence of the disease has been reported in neighbouring countries such as Sudan, Ethiopia and Somalia. Health authorities are now on high alert: “We are very concerned about a polio outbreak, especially in the border districts,” says UNICEF Kenya’s Chief of Health, Dr. Iyabode Olusanmi. “There are a lot of human movements between Somalia and Kenya for instance, whether by foot, road or air. This free access puts the area in high risk. The district of Nairobi is also in high risk but we will not be able to launch a vaccination campaign there before the end of October. We just don’t have enough money now to cover all the districts at once.” Part of the needed resources will be funded by UNICEF’s urgent appeal for $4 million to assist children, especially in drought-affected northern Kenya. UNICEF Representative Heimo Laakkonen says children and families in that part of the country are caught in “a tragic struggle between the forces of nature, lack of development and sporadic outbreaks of horrific violence.”  

Drought, polio and violence threaten children

Urgent assistance is needed to immunize nearly a million vulnerable children against polio, but also to assist more than 20,000 children facing malnutrition, and to provide water to 100,000 people in critical need. UNICEF is also calling for funds to provide pre-treated mosquito nets to protect 96,000 children from malaria. Meanwhile rising tribal and clan violence – often politically motivated and related to competition over scarce water resources – has targeted children, costing lives and injuries, and forcing thousands to abandon their homes.

© UNICEF Kenya/2005/Guillaume Bonn
Months after a raid by bandits on his home in Mandera, North Eastern Province, this 8-year-old boy continues to suffer physical and mental trauma. He is one of many children to suffer from tribal and clan violence in 2005.

Clan violence traumatizes children: Ali’s story

One such affected child is 8-year-old ‘Ali’, who screams and buries his face in his sister’s skirts at the sight of strangers. Ali lost his left leg when he was shot by raiders at a water-point near Rhamu, in northern Kenya’s Mandera District. Ali can’t – and doesn’t want to – remember what happened. He is afraid, and thinks all strangers are taking him back to hospital. His older sister, Zainab, on the other hand, speaks freely about what happened. She describes how four bandits from a rival clan came and killed their brother Aden. Then they killed their mother Habiba and turned on Ali. “They shot him in his leg and his stomach,” Zainab says through an interpreter, then chased away their animals and left them for dead. Asked if Ali was shot on purpose, Zainab replies with chilly calm: “Of course, like this,” she says, and mimes an execution.

UNICEF funds’ appeal: Assisting children caught in conflict

Ali’s story is not uncommon. Virtually all children in this marginal area on the Somali and Ethiopian borders have been affected by conflict. Even for those that have not been subjected to violence, schools are frequently closed due to insecurity. UNICEF’s Laakkonen has praised efforts by the government to broker peace between groups in conflict, some of which have met with success. “Yet the risk of more violence remains,” Laakkonen says, “and the legacy of these brutal attacks marks children for months, years, even for life.” To protect children from violence and assist in their recovery, UNICEF is also seeking funds to establish 10 protective drop-in centres with counseling support, and to ensure school continues for at least 40,000 children who would otherwise have dropped-out due to drought-related stress and/or violence. The education of girls – which is always a key factor in improving infant and child health and survival – is lowest in northern Kenya, where less than a third of girls ever attend school. Laakkonen says the source of the attacks lies in poverty, lawlessness, poor governance, and lack of investment and development, including inadequate access to reproductive health services, schools and water supply. All of these factors exacerbate competition over resources during times of scarcity. Once Ali gets over the terror of seeing strangers, he is a resolutely cheerful and mischievous little boy. He is an ace on his crutches, despite having left hospital just seven days ago. “Next term, I will start going to school,” he says… “if the teachers can be persuaded to stay.”



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