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UNICEF: Afghan Children Need Skills to Build Better Life - 2001-12-08

The Executive Director of the United Nations children's fund, UNICEF, says more than two decades of war in Afghanistan have created a generation of lost children.

Carol Bellamy has just returned from a visit to the Afghan capital, Kabul. She tells VOA it will be difficult to help these children acquire the skills they need to build a better life.

UNICEF chief Carol Bellamy says Afghanistan needs everything. More than two decades of war have destroyed the country's infrastructure.

It has no health or education systems. Few people have jobs. She says the country clearly needs long-term help in reconstructing its shattered economy. But she tells VOA the immediate priority is survival.

She notes one in four children dies before age five. Afghanistan has one of the worst maternal mortality rates in the world. Most of the people are illiterate. She says Afghanistan is a country of destitute widows and of people disabled by landmines.

"It is a country with a humanitarian crisis that has only grown larger. At the same time, with the possibility of moving toward some representative form of government. With the possibility of getting humanitarian aid in, perhaps we can respond to these needs. But, it is very clear that right now before anyone talks about big reconstruction programs, we have to just try and keep people alive during the winter," she said.

Ms. Bellamy says more than 20 years of war have created a lost generation of Afghan children who have grown up in ill health and with little or no education. She notes only 25 percent of men in Afghanistan can read and write; only five percent of the women are literate. She says the education system must be entirely rebuilt.

"We see education also as a way to at least respond to the psychological trauma that these kids have gone through. It is not that they will learn about it. It is not that you can bring in an army of psychologists, but you can work quite easily with teachers. And in some ways, the teachers being able to get the kids to act out things, come together and to play can be a very important role," she said.

The UNICEF chief says the eyes of the world are on Afghanistan. She says this gives her a degree of optimism that the country and its people will not be abandoned.