Guinea-Bissau: Coup attempt highlights vulnerability

DAKAR, 24 November 2008 (IRIN) - An apparent coup attempt in Guinea-Bissau on 23 November has underscored the country's chronic political volatility.

In recent years political decay has meant the increasing vulnerability of Guinea-Bissau's population, who face some of the world's highest levels of maternal mortality, under-five malnutrition and lack of access to clean water and sanitation, according to the latest UN human development index.

Gunfire broke out at President Joao Bernardo Vieira's home in the early hours of 23 November, two days after the results of parliamentary elections that had been anticipated with guarded optimism by diplomats, donors and some Guinea-Bissauans.

Just before the poll one woman told IRIN: "We are tired of the politicians quarrelling. We want water, we want electricity. we just want to have a normal daily life."

The country's lack of a water and sanitation infrastructure turns deadly every year, as the rainy season brings cholera to Guinea-Bissau. Only some 20 percent of residents of the capital, Bissau, have access to tap water, according to the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF). More than half the rural population get their water from rivers or unprotected wells.

Infant mortality stands at 119 per 1,000 live births, and malaria, acute respiratory infections, diarrhoea and malnutrition remain the major killers of children, UNICEF says. Life expectancy in 2006 was 46 years.

Compounding Guinea-Bissau's chronic unrest and blocked development is drug-trafficking. The West African nation is a hub for drugs flowing from South America to Europe and the USA.

Local drug consumption has also become a problem.

Even as the parliamentary poll was taking place, Guinea-Bissau's teachers were in the third month of a strike over salary arrears. Civil servants' strikes are common.

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