NEW YORK/LONDON, 18 June 2007 - UNICEF Ambassador Lucy Liu recently returned from her visit to the Eastern part of the Democratic Republic of Congo. Ms. Liu spent time in both the District of Ituri and the North Kivu province, where she met children formerly associated with armed-groups, survivors of sexual violence, and communities of displaced people who have abandoned their homes to avoid the ongoing violence in the region.
The conflict in the DRC is the deadliest in the world since World War II. Between 1998 and 2003, an estimated 3.8 million people died as a consequence of the war. The death toll far exceeds other recent crises, including Bosnia (estimated 250,000 dead), Rwanda (800,000), Kosovo (12,000) and Darfur (200,000). Shockingly, an estimated 1,200 people still die each day in the DRC; with half of these victims being children.
As a global leader for the protection of children and women worldwide, UNICEF continues to generate support for conflict-affected women and children in the DRC, and provide them with the basic tools to realize a better future. As part of this mission, UNICEF Ambassador Liu visited centers for former child soldiers and survivors of sexual violence, and also met with communities that had been displaced due to on-going conflict to help raise awareness and publicize the ongoing conflict in the DRC.
"I had the opportunity to meet with children and women who have faced unspeakable horrors, and who continue to live in an unstable environment," said Ambassador Liu. "Yet, it is clear to me that the people of DRC are still very much hopeful for change which can only happen if the international community continues to support the work of agencies like UNICEF and its partners."
Children in the DRC continue to bear the brunt of the conflict. Not only as victims of disease and death, but as witnesses to and (at times) forced participants in crimes that inflict lifelong physical and psychological harm. Twenty-nine thousand children have so far passed through the formal process of relief from armed groups and are being reintegrated back into their communities. Another several thousand children are still indoctrinated in armed groups in the Congo today.
Since January, over 50,000 people per month have been displaced from their homes and forced to seek refuge in the nearest safe villages. Homes, villages, markets and schools have been looted and are often destroyed, leaving families without access to basic services or shelter. UNICEF has provided assistance to the 50,000 displaced people by providing clean water and sanitation, emergency education and household supplies. Working with partners, UNICEF has also extended its assistance to help displaced families return to their communities when possible. UNICEF's program of expanded assistance to returnees has facilitated the return of 100,000 people by providing them with survival kits and equipping schools with materials so that the education of returning children can resume un-interrupted.
UNICEF and Ambassador Liu are calling on the Government of the Democratic Republic of Congo to make all efforts to avoid a further deterioration of the humanitarian situation in the east of the country. UNICEF also calls on the international community to continue to support the plight of innocent Congolese women and children caught up in the continuing conflict.
UNICEF is on the ground in over 150 countries and territories to help children survive and thrive, from early childhood through adolescence. The world's largest provider of vaccines for developing countries, UNICEF supports child health and nutrition, good water and sanitation, quality basic education for all boys and girls, and the protection of children from violence, exploitation, and AIDS. UNICEF is funded entirely by the voluntary contributions of individuals, businesses, foundations and governments. For more information about UNICEF, please visit www.unicefusa.org.
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