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UNICEF: Angola Slowly Improving, but More Work Needed - 2003-06-23

The United Nations Children's Fund, UNICEF, says Angola has taken some significant steps toward rebuilding the country from 30 years of civil war. But UNICEF said much work lies ahead, and help is needed from the international community.

The UNICEF representative in Angola, Mario Ferrari, said Angola has lost two generations to the 30 years of war between the government and UNITA rebels, and before that the war for independence from Portugal. He said the international community must see to it that Angola does not lose a third generation.

"We are working in order to avoid that there is another generation lost. That is why we are pushing with a lot of strength. The time is now. The time is now to go back and quickly to establish systems, to establish systems throughout the country, and to start to work very quickly on the upgrading of the quality of the systems," Mr. Ferrari said.

The task ahead is huge. United Nations figures show that 25 percent of Angolan children die before the age of five, 45 percent of the children suffer from chronic malnutrition, and only 27 percent of one-year old children are fully immunized against preventable diseases. In addition, 45 percent of Angolan children do not go to school.

UNICEF said it cannot predict how quickly Angola will recover from the latest war, which displaced more than four million people - one-third of the country's population - and destroyed the social and economic fabric of its society.

But Mr. Ferrari, the UNICEF representative, said the people of Angola have a lot of energy and determination to change things. And he is surprised at the speed with which things are moving.

For example, he said campaigns in health and education, backed by UNICEF and supported by the government, have been very successful. He said more than seven million children were immunized against measles in April and May.

In addition, Mr. Ferrari said, about 500,000 Angolan children went back to school as a result of the country's biggest-ever education campaign. He said education is considered the engine that will drive Angola's long-term recovery.

"The level of illiteracy is very high. Forty-six percent of women are illiterate, and 18 percent of men, which is an indicator of imbalance of access to basic services between women and men. ... The school is important because it is a stabilizing factor for the family, a stabilizing factor for the children," Mr. Ferrari said.

Mr. Ferrari said the back-to-school campaign has been so successful that the Angolan government has decided to provide $40 million to recruit and hire 29,000 new teachers. This, he said, will allow one million more children to enroll in school.

The UNICEF representative said Angola can build on these initial successes. But he said this will need a firm commitment of assistance from the international community.

He said he is in Geneva to meet with donors to try to persuade them that supporting Angola's rehabilitation projects is a good investment in salvaging the lives of millions of people, who have known little but war and misery for decades.