(formerly IRIN News) Journalism from the heart of crises

UNICEF appeals for assistance for region's children

The humanitarian crisis in Southern Africa has been particularly hard on young people, with aid agencies estimating that half of those in need in the region are children.

The UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) has made fresh appeals for its programmes in five Southern African countries where children are in desperate need of assistance.

EFFECTS OF WAR IN ANGOLA

In Angola, UNICEF is concentrating on expanding learning opportunities for children.

Following a back-to-school campaign in 2002, launched in the provinces of Bie and Malanje with UNICEF's support, the government recruited 29,000 new teachers to be deployed throughout the country in an effort to expand primary education for the 2004 school year, which starts in March.

UNICEF is supporting the Ministry of Education in implementing teacher training programmes.

"This bold move could translate into some 1 million out-of-school children attending school, and significantly raise the primary school attendance rate in a country where almost one half of all children are not attending school. The expansion of learning opportunities is essential, especially in areas where populations have returned and resettled, and is vital in the country's transition towards longer-term recovery and development," UNICEF said.

Despite the critical nature of UNICEF's interventions, the agency said its appeal for Angola was just 38 percent funded.

UNICEF is also involved in mobilising community support for school rehabilitation, or construction in areas of resettlement, as well as supplying basic learning and teaching kits and developing teaching methodologies. "UNICEF has an immediate funding need to support teacher training seminars at municipal levels, and the provision of teaching kits (as part of a larger funding requirement)," the organisation said.

It has appealed for US $988,600 for its programmes in Angola.

UNPRECEDENTED CRISIS IN COMOROS

UNICEF also requires US $500,000 to assist children in the Indian ocean archipelego of the Comoros, but currently has no pledges towards this appeal.

The Comoros is made up of three islands, Grande Comore, Anjouan and Moheli, which are still suffering the effects of the separatist crisis in 1997, when the island of Anjouan attempted to secede from the union.

"Despite the tremendous efforts ... to set up democratic and decentralised institutions, the current conflict of power sharing between the central government and island governments doesn't allow the country to recover," UNICEF commented.

Interventions in the education sector are aimed at benefiting at least 100,000 children in public and private schools. If the appeal is funded, "Forty-five thousand girls will have the opportunity to stay in the school system," the organisation said.

ORPHANS AND VULNERABLE CHILDREN

In Swaziland, where HIV/AIDS has spread rapidly in recent years, UNICEF is focussed on keeping orphans and vulnerable children safe and in school.

"The HIV prevalence rate [rose] from 3.9 percent among pregnant women in 1992, to 32.6 percent in 1998. Mortality rates among young adults have now soared since 2000, leaving over 50,000 children orphaned or extremely vulnerable. Many children are heading households. Primary school net enrolment rates have dropped from over 90 percent in the mid-1990s to less than 70 percent today," the agency said.

Continuing drought conditions since 2001 in the eastern part of the country have added a food security dimension to the crisis.

"In January 2003, UNICEF and its partners launched the "Education for All Community Grants" initiative jointly with chiefs, local leaders and school officials in 45 of those communities, aimed at bringing the most vulnerable children back into school or non-formal education activities. Schools received funds to be able to absorb the increased numbers, including to pay for stationery and supply costs, and for assistant teachers recruited from unemployed young people in the community," the organisation pointed out.

However, training in child-protection and psychosocial support was also required to help children who had suffered trauma caused by the break-up of families due to AIDS. "In those 45 primary schools, enrolment increased by over 20 percent in 2003," UNICEF said.

It noted that a related initiative, "funded by ECHO [the European Commission Humanitarian Aid Office], is now introducing neighbourhood care points into those communities, to provide a place where pre-school, out-of-school and after-school orphans and vulnerable children can receive emotional support, meals, and opportunities for learning and play".

The agency said it was "urgently" appealing for US $750,000 to support its "All Children Safe in Schools" emergency education programme.

"The funds will be used to bring orphans and vulnerable children back into school, and ensure others from very poor families can remain in school. The initiatives will benefit 24,000 vulnerable primary-school-aged children in 80 communities especially hard-hit by AIDS and poverty, including 8,000 extremely vulnerable and orphaned children who had dropped out of school," UNICEF explained.

POVERTY CYCLE

In Zambia, one of the poorest nations in Southern Africa, with an estimated 80 percent of its 10 million people living below the poverty line, UNICEF is working in concert with the World Food Programme (WFP) to accelerate the country's recovery from the combined impact of drought and HIV/AIDS.

"Last year drought and erratic rains compromised food security in many households - especially in Southern and Western provinces - and necessitated a consolidated appeal for assistance to deal with the resultant humanitarian crisis," UNICEF said. At the height of the emergency about 2.9 million Zambians needed food aid.

Despite a recovery, there are still pockets of need in Zambia.

"One of the first casualties in 2003 was attendance of children in schools. Children were withdrawn to assist family members to forage for game and wild fruits, or to participate in work-for-food programmes. An important part of the UN coordinated response was a collaborative effort by WFP and UNICEF to establish school feeding programmes. This intervention dramatically increased school attendance (especially among the most vulnerable) and assured the provision of at least one nutritious meal for school-aged children daily," UNICEF noted.

WFP and UNICEF have been asked to accelerate this relief activity. "WFP provides food, while UNICEF provides feeding utensils, training for teachers and community workers, and education materials - necessary to ensure that schools continue to offer quality education and do not degenerate to mere feeding stations," UNICEF added.

The agency also works to ensure the adequacy of water and sanitation facilities in each assisted school.

UNICEF has appealed for US $763,250 for its Zambia programmes.

ZIMBABWE'S FARM AREAS IN NEED

Like Zambia, Zimbabwe's food security crisis has resulted in children dropping out of school.

"Moreover, children of commercial farm workers, displaced by Zimbabwe's contentious land reform [programme], and those of resettled farmers, though learning in makeshift/temporary schools, lack access to teaching materials," UNICEF said.

In response, the agency intends to procure and distribute "school in a box" kits to the temporary schools and develop capacity in the areas of analysing, tracking and disseminating data on school dropouts.

"Availability of school-in-a-box kits will ensure continued education for about 500,000 children affected. Better targeting of school feeding programmes as a result of timely availability of disaggregated data on school dropouts will keep children in school and reduce potential exposure to risk behaviour [such as transactional sex] that might otherwise lead to HIV infection. This also will enhance survival and future development," UNICEF noted.

The agency said "about US $800,000 is needed immediately, out of which US $600,000 is to buy the school-in-a-box kits, and the rest being for technical and hardware support" to analyse dropout data.

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