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UNICEF convoy brings relief to forgotten children in Côte d'Ivoire

ABIJIAN, April 10, 2003 - After seven months of isolation due to fighting, a UNICEF convoy delivered a consignment of medical supplies and relief food for children in the severely-stricken north-eastern district of Bouna, 600 km north-east of Abidjan.

The supplies consisted of basic health kits, water purification tablets, mosquito nets, soap, disinfectants and plastic buckets, as well as four tons of rice, soya beans and cooking oil. The food is destined for a school children's cantine run by Roman Catholic missionaries and were sourced from World Food Programme stocks in government-controlled Bondoukou, 160 km south of Bouna.

UNICEF also provided a refridgerator and three gas cylinders to revive the "cold chain" system and restart vaccination for children at Bouna Hospital. Also, two water pumps and spare parts to rehabilitate the town's broken down water supply system were delivered, as well as education and recreation kits for 1,300 school children receiving recreational care at the Catholic mission compound and at two other locations. The normal schools closed when most of the teachers fled in the heat of the fighting.

"You came. You saw. You listened. You responded. For this, we are eternally grateful to you, UNICEF", Rev Sister Annalisa Tognon of the St Andre Kaggwa Catholic Parish, who received part of the consignment on behalf of the most vulnerable among Bouna's 18,000 population, said. She was referring to an earlier pledge by UNICEF to provide emergency support.

A Ghanaian detachment of the UN mandated West African peacekeeping force escorted the convoy.

A March 19-22 UNICEF assessment mission to Bouna had found near catastrophic conditions prevailing there. Power had been cut and there was no safe potable water. The health care system had broken down and most of the medical personnel had fled. There were no essential drugs. The immunization "cold chain" and other medical equipment had fallen into disrepair. No child had been vaccinated since September 2002 when war broke out. The situation was indeed alarming and the UNICEF team was determined to return with some relief support - which they did this week.

The central government is supportive of the move to resupply the occupied zones and to begin to normalise links. Government soldiers at road blocks en route cooperatived with the passage of the convoy.

"The most immediate step should be to get the cold chain up and running for routine immunization to resume. This is urgent ", Herbert Schembri, senior programme officer who led the nine-member UNICEF team, told the parish development committee and the local authorities assembled to welcome the convoy. "We need to move fast, and depending on how soon people are able to transit freely, UNICEF and partners will do the utmost to assist you rehabilitate the social services and to get the children back to school," Schembri said.

He noted that health authorities in the government areas such as Bondoukou were ready to ship in vaccines and syringes from stocks held there. Many teachers and health workers who took refuge in Bondoukou or as far down as Abidjan were also willing to get back, predicated on full security being re-established, Schembri added. In March UNICEF Representative, Georgette Aithnard, informed Prime Minister Seydou Diarra that UNICEF was ready to mediate and assist in the return of displaced teachers and health personnel to their place of posting in the occupied zone to achieve a speedy resumption of activities.

In February UNICEF opened a sub-office in Bouake in order to bring health & nutrition, water & environmental sanitation, basic education and child protection support closer to children and other vulnerable groups in the occupied zones. A sub-office was also opened at the same time in Yamoussoukro, the political capital, and is now acting as an important logistics hub for UNICEF field operations in central, western and northern Côte d'Ivoire.

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For further information please contact:.

Patricia Dailly Ajavon, Tel: Abidjan: 20208153 & 20208110




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