Children in Ivory Coast facing health 'catastrophe'

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The Independent Online

Thousands of children forced from their homes by ongoing fighting in Ivory Coast are at risk of potentially deadly diseases as they crowd into camps without adequate shelter to protect them from heavy rains, Save the Children warns.

Five months after the disputed election which plunged the country into conflict, families displaced by the fighting are still living and sleeping out in the open and lack access to clean drinking water, leaving them at high risk of developing respiratory infections as well as mosquito- and water-borne diseases.

“We have no house,” said Celestine a mother of three living in a displacement camp in Duekoué. “The rain comes and we’re sleeping outside. If it rains, it wakes you up and you can’t sleep. People have stomach infections, sicknesses...We can’t live like this.”

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In a settlement at a church in the western town of Guiglo, more than four thousand people are living outdoors without tents, plastic sheeting or mosquito nets ahead of seasonal rains due to arrive this week.

“Conditions in these camps are already atrocious, and will only get worse as the rainy season sets in,” said Annie Bodmer-Roy, Save the Children’s spokesperson in Man, Western Ivory Coast.

“Without clean water, proper shelter and access to healthcare, children in these camps could find themselves caught in a breeding ground for disease, and the potential consequences are catastrophic.”

The onset of the rainy season could prompt a sharp increase in diseases including acute diarrhoea, malaria and respiratory infections.

Camps have already been hit by heavy rains and residents have noticed an increase in sickness as the meagre sources of water available are often untreated. Diarrhoea has already claimed several lives, including children.

“It’s not fair because children should have a house and a school,” said Kevin, 14, who is living in a camp in Duekoué. “There is a lot of rubbish in the places where we eat and where we sleep which brings sickness. It’s not good to sleep here.”

Save the Children and Britain’s Department for International Development have chartered an emergency cargo plane to deliver urgently needed shelter items to Ivory Coast, including plastic sheeting, mosquito nets, buckets and water purification tablets.

Stephen O’Brien, Britain’s Minister for International Development, said: "I visited refugee camps on Liberia’s border with Cote d’Ivoire just two weeks ago and met people who had walked many, many miles with their families to escape the fear and suffering and were being cared for through British aid. But for every one who has fled the country, thousands more are still living without food, water and security in Cote D’Ivoire.

"The arrival of the Save the Children's plane, with aid funded by the British Government, will contribute to making a real difference to the lives of 55,000 men, women and children – people who are in urgent and dire need of our help. This humanitarian crisis will undoubtedly get worse before it gets better as the imminent rainy season approaches. British aid, delivered by Save the Children, will help stop the spread of diseases like malaria and cholera in its tracks, saving countless lives across the country."

Save the Children has launched an emergency appeal for £25milllion. Money raised will be used to scale up work training midwives and providing counselling to victims of sexual violence. It will also help increase the number of health and education projects, emotional and psychological support and help keep children together with their families and in a safe environment.

Click here to donate to the appeal

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