Geneva, Friday, 24 January 2003 - The Cote d'Ivoire crisis is four months old. Day after day, the humanitarian impact of the crisis takes its toll and the situation of children gets more critical.
It is four months since hundreds of thousands of children have been able to attend school, four months since they have had access to basic health and other social services and four months since humanitarian agencies have had access to many of the people affected by the crisis.
Already in Côte d'Ivoire, over 1 million people have been displaced - 80% of whom are women and children. Thousands have left Côte d'Ivoire for neighbouring countries, most of them fleeing the precarious situation to return to their villages of origin in Ghana, Mali, Burkina Faso, Niger, Guinea and Liberia.
Côte d'Ivoire, formerly the economic powerhouse in the sub-region is now caught up in a quagmire which, in turn, is having a domino effect on the surrounding countries, which depended economically on Côte d'Ivoire in one way or another. The immigrant population in Côte d'Ivoire - several million - is also no longer able to provide for their extended families in their countries of origin.
As we meet today, we hear that an agreement has been reached in Paris for a peaceful solution to the crisis in Côte d'Ivoire. This gives hope to the people in Côte d'Ivoire and its neighbouring countries. However, much remains to be done on the humanitarian front to meet the health and education needs of children and to foster peace building through both emergency and development programming.
From the outset of the crisis, UNICEF called attention to the need for full protection of all affected children. And - together with our sister agencies - we geared up our emergency response to provide health and other essential basic services, in particular for the most vulnerable children in and around Abidjan, Bouake and Korhogo. However, since mid-November, humanitarian activities have been seriously impaired by the lack of access in many parts of the country due to insecurity.
UNICEF has constantly advocated against involvement of child combatants and has repeatedly called for safe access to all areas so as to provide basic services for children and women, in particular, urgently needed health and education.
Today, four months since the 19 September coup attempt, it is not easy to draw attention to the crisis and its sub-regional impact - which is having a devastating impact on the children and the women. And, it is not easy to attract funding for our urgent activites.
This morning, I met the donor community, together with the UNICEF representatives of all the countries involved in the crisis, and briefed them on our urgent need for US$ 5.7 million to allow UNICEF to cover the affected children's emergency health, nutrition and education needs for the next two months - including a mass vaccination campaign against measles.
In an emergency like Cote d'Ivoire, when you have large displaced populations, reduced access health care, adequate water and sanitation and reduced coping mechanisms, an absolute priority must be given to immunizing children against measles. It is the most effective, preventive health care activity you can do to save children's lives.
The children of Cote d'Ivoire and those affected in the neighbouring countries need your help. You have a key role to play in raising awareness of their plight and advocating for the protection of their rights.
For further information or to arrange interviews with Rima Salah, UNICEF WCARO Regional Director, and Georgette Aithnard, UNICEF Representative, Cote d'Ivoire, please contact: Margherita Amodeo,firstname.lastname@example.org , Regional Communication Adviser, UNICEF WCARO, Tel: 00225 05 68 09 73