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UNICEF Operations Frozen in Ivory Coast For Lack Of Funds

The U.N. Children's Fund says all major assistance programs in Ivory Coast are frozen for lack of funds. UNICEF says rates of malnutrition and HIV/AIDS are rising at an alarming level among children in the country.

Ivory Coast's political and military crisis continues. The country remains divided between the government-held South and the rebel-controlled North. A buffer zone manned by U.N. peacekeepers is maintaining an uneasy peace.

The U.N. Children's Fund says donors are reluctant to give money until Ivory Coast resolves its political problems. It says the crisis is causing enormous problems for humanitarian operations. As of now, the agency says it only has $2 million in the bank instead of the $16 million it needs to carry out its mission.

UNICEF spokesman, Damien Personnaz, says loss of harvests, lack of food reserves and the massive displacement of people have seriously affected the nutritional status of children.

"Eleven percent of children in the north part of the country which are suffering from wasting, which means they are too small and they will remain too small," he said. "And also over 20 percent from stunting in the North, which means that their mental and brain capacity will suffer some loss for their whole life, which means that these children will never be able to be children with a normal capacity."

Personnaz says children suffering from malnutrition are more prone to get sick and die. Last year, he notes 55 children died during an outbreak of meningitis.

"What is actually worrying is that if we do not receive the money which we are asking the donor community, we will have to stop very important routine immunization activities such as immunizing children against measles, diphtheria, tetanus - all these kind of basic diseases which are the first killers for children under five years old," he added.

Another concern is HIV/AIDS. Latest estimates show 40,000 children in Ivory Coast currently living with HIV/AIDS. Although the UNICEF spokesman says the real number is probably higher.

Personnaz says HIV/AIDS thrives where poverty and insecurity make women and children vulnerable to abuse and rape. Ivory Coast currently is not at war. However, Personnaz warns the health status of children in the country will become as bad as that of children in war-torn Liberia, Chad and Sierra Leone by the end of the year if aid programs are not reactivated.