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UNICEF Cites 'Catastrophic Situation' in Angola - 2002-01-14

The United Nations Children's Fund, UNICEF, says decades of conflict, combined with neglect by the international donor community, has had a devastating effect on Angola's children.

Angola's civil war is now in its 26th year. About one million people are estimated to have died in fighting between the Angolan government and UNITA rebel forces. More than three million others have been made homeless, about one-quarter of the population.

UNICEF spokeswoman Wivina Belmonte said everyone suffers during war, but in Angola, there can be no doubt children are suffering the most. "The condition of children in Angola remains catastrophic," she said. "The under-five mortality rate is the second highest in the world. We are talking about a country where one child dies every three minutes. It is astounding. And [the] situation has been like this for years."

UNICEF says more than 50 percent of Angola's children suffer from chronic malnutrition, with the percentage even higher in areas where displaced people live, such as Cuito and Camacup in the central province of Bie.

Because Angola's civil war has dragged on for so many years, the country tends to be overlooked by the international community. UNICEF spokeswoman Belmonte said lack of money is hampering UNICEF's efforts to help children. "UNICEF has trouble getting funding for Angola," she said. "For years now, it has been one of the 10 worst-funded programs for us. Children in Angola die primarily of malaria. But they also die of measles, which is absolutely vaccine-preventable. Every child that dies of measles is a life than can be saved."

Last year, UNICEF issued an appeal for $18 million for Angola. To date, it has received only $5.2 million, or 28 percent of the total requirement. It has re-issued the appeal this year in the hope of reaching its $18 million goal.

UNICEF says it needs money to carry out measles and polio immunization campaigns, to reduce deaths from malaria and to provide clean water to prevent children dying from diarrhea and other diseases caused by polluted water. As it does in other war zones, UNICEF also wants to devote some of the money to alerting children about the dangers of land mines, an ever-present problem in a country that has endured years of fighting.