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Vulnerable Children And Women At Risk

UN Integrated Regional Information Networks, 11 June 2002

The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) in Eritrea has warned that it is facing a serious shortfall in funding for this year, putting vital work with vulnerable women and children at risk.

According to a recent donor update, the agency has received less than one quarter of the funding it requested in its annual appeal last November. Christian Balslev-olesen, UNICEF’s representative in Asmara, said the situation was very worrying.

He noted that the funding shortfall had come as the agency’s programme was reaching a crucial stage. People are trying to re-establish their lives after the war, he told IRIN. Refugees returning from the Sudan, expellees from Ethiopia, as well as internally displaced people urgently need basic facilities, such as water, sanitation, education and health.

There is nothing to assist these people to go back and start their lives again. It is not an issue that can wait a year or two years, they need help now, he stressed.

In the Combined Inter-Agency Appeal 2002 (CAP), UNICEF asked for a total of US $10.3 million, but so far has only received US $2.4 million. A large proportion of this is being spent on establishing and rehabilitating water supplies in settlement areas, as well as setting up basic health and sanitation facilities.

But the agency has warned that the shortfall has left several of its other critical activities unfunded. Three of its programmes -Mines Risk Education (MRE), HIV/Aids awareness and child protection programmes - have so far received no finance.

The agency says that MRE has become a priority as many people return to their homes in areas which are believed to be still mined. HIV/Aids awareness is also becoming increasingly important. The number of people affected by the disease is increasing rapidly in Eritrea and experts say there will be an urgent need for an expanded programme once the army starts demobilising and 200,000 soldiers return to their communities.

In its quarterly report released last week, UNICEF has identified three of its most immediate priorities. It appealed for US $1.7 million to pay for the provision of therapeutic feeding for returning refugee children in the Gash Barka region, as well as the training of health workers in that region.

It has also asked for help to provide essential educational materials, school furniture and equipment to children in the war-affected Gash Barka and Debub regions. Work with war-affected and returning refugee women and children, including reintegration and rehabilitation assistance also needs urgent funding, according to the agency’s report.

Donor response to this year’s CAP appeal for all United Nations programmes in Eritrea has been disappointing. In the seven months since the appeal was launched, the UN has only received 17.2 percent of the approximately US $120 million it requested to cover its humanitarian activities in the country.

Aid workers believe that the poor response is due to the fact that the war has ended in Eritrea. The country is no longer considered to be facing an emergency situation, but is now officially in a recovery phase.