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UNICEF Needs Emergency Funds For Afghanistan

The United Nations Children's Fund is urgently appealing for $7 million for emergency assistance for tens of thousands of women and children in Afghanistan. UNICEF says a combination of insecurity, natural and man-made-disasters is putting many of Afghanistan's most vulnerable people at risk. Lisa Schlein reports for VOA from Geneva.

No time is a particularly good time for the people of Afghanistan. But, over the past six months, they have been going through a particularly difficult period.

The year started with a large number of early and unexpected flash floods that forced many people to leave their homes. The country continued to reel from other natural and man-made disasters such as heavy snowfalls, landslides, disease and, of course, armed conflict.

The U.N. Children's Fund reports the security situation in the country is deteriorating. It notes that fighting between the Taleban and Government and Coalition forces is spreading to more areas. It says civilians on both sides are victims of armed conflict. Thousands have been made homeless.

UNICEF Spokeswoman, Miranda Eeles, says as of May, about 41 percent of Afghanistan's districts have become no-go areas for the United Nations and this is hampering the delivery of aid.

"There are more than one-point-three million Afghan refugees living in Iran and a lot of those are being deported back to the country," Eeles said. "We also see an increase in school incidents and threats against students. We have pretty bad results when it comes to things like infant mortality rates. One child out of every four does not survive his or her fifth birthday. So, in general, it is not only the security situation, it is a whole host of problems that the country is experiencing."

UNICEF reports seven percent of children under five suffer from acute malnutrition and 54 percent are chronically malnourished.

Eeles says two million children of primary school age are out of school. About 1.3 million of them are girls. She says parents are fearful of sending their children to school because of the many threats made against students and teachers. Girls have been especially targeted by the Taleban which believes girls should not have an education and that they should be at home.

"Thirty one attacks have been reported against schools in the first six months," Eeles said. "We have had schools being torched. There are also explosions and there have also been deliberate attacks on girl students and women teachers. This has resulted in at least four deaths and six injuries. In the four southern provinces of Helmand, Kandahar, Uruzgan and Zabul, out of a total of 740 schools, it is estimated that around 262 of them are no longer providing education services to students."

Eeles says education is a primary focus of the UNICEF appeal because it provides important services to children. Beyond the obvious value of learning, she says schools offer feeding programs for children who, otherwise, would go hungry.

She says children who go to school receive immunizations against killer diseases as well as vitamin A supplements, which can prevent blindness. She says money also will be used for health and nutrition and water and sanitation.