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Sudanese Children First Victims of War

More than 300,000 children in Sudan die every year from preventable causes, about 26,000 mothers die each year giving birth, says UNICEF

The U.N. Children's Fund says hundreds of thousands of children in Sudan are dying from preventable reasons. UNICEF says children are the first victims of war and their situation is unlikely to get better unless peace comes to that country.

The U.N. Children's Fund says more than 300,000 children in Sudan die every year from preventable causes. And, it says, about 26,000 mothers die each year giving birth.

UNICEF statistics show about 75,000 children die from malaria. But, it adds malaria deaths are going down significantly because about 70 percent of households with under-five children now have insecticide-treated mosquito nets.

UNICEF Representative in Sudan, Nils Kastberg, says diarrhea, respiratory infections and measles also are big child killers. He says too many children in Sudan are badly malnourished and that is a big reason why they are dying.

"We basically need to strengthen the nutrition value," says Kastberg. "Generally, mortality around the world, you tend to say that under-five mortality is 30 percent of the children die because they are weak out of malnutrition. In the case of Sudan, it is 60 percent of the children that have various degrees of malnutrition that weaken them and that is why they fall so easily to malaria, to diarrhea, to respiratory infections."

Kastberg says poverty and war-like conditions in Sudan also affect education. He says at least three-million children are not going to school and many of those that get a primary education do not continue their studies.

He says in many Sudanese states fewer than 40 percent of women are literate. He says there is no way education and survival rates can be improved unless Sudan has peace.

Sudan will be holding a referendum in 2011 that will decide whether the South secedes from the North and becomes independent. Kastberg says most people are predicting there will be an eruption of different levels of conflict after the referendum.

"What we are trying to do is everything possible so that all those doom scenarios do not happen ... and if we can make progress in that regard, then I think we would be able to reduce under-five mortality very quickly in two or three years by at least a third, maternal mortality at least by a third," Kastberg adds.

Kastberg says UNICEF is running a peace campaign throughout the country to get people to think about the cost of war and the cost of peace. He says church and tribal leaders, Imams and political leaders are engaged in the campaign.

He says at least 15,000 so-called student peace ambassadors also are spreading the message of peace. He says a TV campaign is getting underway in the capital, Khartoum. He notes the World Food Program is including information leaflets as part of its food distribution program to 11-million people.