Sanctions' Impact on Children

The children of Burundi will be seriously affected by recently imposed economic sanctions unless humanitarian guidelines are set up to protect them. If supplies for social services are not exempt, children will be without vaccines, adequate health care, clean water, and even school supplies. Services to provide care for those traumatized by violence or separated from their families will stop. The establishment of protected supply routes, or "humanitarian corridors," would allow the continued flow of food, fuel, and vaccine, ensuring the survival of essential services for children.

In December 1995, UNICEF launched an Anti-War Agenda to protect children from the worst excesses of warfare and civil strife. The agenda called on the international community to consider the needs of children before sanctions were imposed on any country and take special measures to protect them. A needs-assessment, which UNICEF has just undertaken, shows quite clearly that children will bear the brunt of sanctions unless something is done immediately to ensure their exemption.

The distribution of vaccines, for example, would be severely hampered by any fuel shortage. So too would the operation of mobile health clinics. Immunization activities would be paralyzed at a time when Burundi is on the verge of reaching 75 percent immunization of those under a year old - or 190,000 children. A break in the distribution of essential drugs, particularly to the rural poor, would mean a lack of proper treatment for the nearly 2 million people served by health centers.

Every day, supplementary food rations are given daily to malnourished children under 5 in some 130 health centers countrywide. A severe fuel shortage will make it difficult, if not impossible, for the delivery of food stocks, ending this vital operation. At least 30,000 malnourished and extremely vulnerable children would be affected.

Every day trucks from relief agencies and nongovernmental organizations provide clean water to 9,000 displaced people living in camps. But these sorts of programs are now at risk. If we can't get the construction materials and the fuel we need, the work to restore 15 small-scale water schemes and 100 water sources that provide safe water to 65,000 people across the country will end. If sanitation teams can't reach remote areas, pit latrines, serving about 26,000 school children, will fill up, posing untold health risks.

Burundi's 1,300 primary schools are scheduled to re-open in a month. But the embargo could push up the price of school supplies, already a strain on family finances. The result would be fewer children able to attend school. The training of 3,000 teachers also will be affected; these teachers will find it harder to travel to training centers. The embargo will halt the building of 200 temporary classrooms that would provide primary schooling for 20,000 displaced children.

Another 20,000 children, traumatized by the violence of the past three years, will lack the help they need if planned seminars for caregivers are canceled because of logistical problems. With borders closed, programs to reunite more than 10,000 orphans with their families will simply stop.

In Burundi, as in other countries, humanitarian aid and long-term development programs go hand-in-hand. The emergency supplies that reach children today will help to preserve health and education services tomorrow. Both should be seen as vital investments in the country's future and as part of the peace process. If we can't get food and vaccines into Burundi, basic services for children will collapse, and the prospects for their survival and development could be bleak.

*Carol Bellamy is executive director of UNICEF, the United Nations Children's Fund in New York.

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