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UNICEF Asks for $1 Billion in Emergency Aid

The U.N. Children's Fund is appealing for just more than $1 billion to provide emergency assistance to millions of destitute children and women in 36 countries. UNICEF has launched its Humanitarian Action Report 2009, which describes the plight of children and women struggling to survive in situations of conflict, natural disaster and other emergencies.

Hundreds of women and children were killed in the Gaza Strip in the recent conflict with Israel. The U.N. Children's Fund said they will need long-term physical and psychological support.

While Gaza is making the headlines, UNICEF noted many thousands of women and children elsewhere in the world are dying of disease, poverty and hunger. But it noted their deaths go largely unnoticed because these emergencies are silent and largely forgotten.

More than half money would go to help victims in Africa

UNICEF's appeal this year is 17 percent higher than in 2008 because of increased needs in eastern and southern Africa. UNICEF Executive Director Ann Veneman said more than half the money will go to victims in five countries, Somalia, Sudan, Uganda, Zimbabwe and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

"I have visited the DRC and met with girls and women who have been raped and abused. The years of conflict have claimed the lives of some five million people. That is more than 65 percent of the entire population of Switzerland. Rape and sexual violence in the Democratic Republic of Congo continues to be widespread, leaving a long-term impact on the victims, while the perpetrators are rarely prosecuted," she said.

Veneman said the civilian population is terrorized and often forced to flee, taking shelter in the forests or in camps with little access to water, food, medicine and other basic services.

Economic woes impacting cholera epidemic in Zimbabwe

Veneman said the crumbling economy is a major cause of the cholera crisis gripping Zimbabwe. She said cholera cases are approaching 60,000 and the number of deaths stands at 2,200.

She said the cholera epidemic is not under control, and poverty, violence and hunger are widespread.

She said poor countries in Africa and elsewhere in the world are being crushed by the financial crisis and the volatility in food and fuel prices.

"If you are a very poor family that is spending as much as 70 percent of your disposable income on food and the food price goes up double or triple, then you are foregoing other things - health care. You may be foregoing your children going to school because they cannot pay the school fees or you need to send them on the streets to beg or get a job," said Veneman.

The UNICEF report noted between 2005 and 2007, the agency responded to an annual average of 276 emergencies in 92 countries. It said more than half of these were caused by disasters, 30 percent were a result of conflict and 19 percent were epidemics and other health-related emergencies.