Ten million childhood disabilities prevented in campaign to end polio – UNICEF

ADDIS ABABA/NEW YORK, 23 October – Every day, a thousand or so children have been protected from disability during a 26-year global effort to eradicate polio.  The worldwide campaign has immunised millions of previously-unreached children across the globe, UNICEF said on the eve of World Polio Day.

A child gets a mark after polio vaccination

Ayan Hassan marks a child after polio vaccination. Warder, Somali region, Ethiopia. ©UNICEF Ethiopia/2013/Sewunet

Some 10 million people today would otherwise have been paralysed, while an additional 1.5 million lives have been saved through the routine administration of Vitamin A during polio vaccination drives.

The annual number of polio cases has fallen from 350,000 in 1988, to 416 in 2013, and 243 so far this year – an extraordinary drop of more than 99 percentAll but three countries where polio was firmly entrenched – Afghanistan, Nigeria and Pakistan – have eliminated the virus within their borders. And multiple outbreaks have been contained over the past 26 years.

“In 1988 polio was a leading cause of childhood disability,” said UNICEF Executive Director Anthony Lake. “In country after country since then, a generation of children has grown up without the spectre of polio.”

“The success of the eradication effort – reaching some of the most disadvantaged communities in some of the most dangerous circumstances – proves that it is possible to reach all children,” Lake added. “Our most ambitious and audacious goals for children can be met. And if they can be, they must be.”

In Ethiopia, despite significant progress made in polio eradication since the launch of the initiative in 1988, the wild poliovirus (WPV) continues to infect people, causing life-long paralysis and disability, which can only be prevented through vaccination. The Horn of Africa was struck with a polio outbreak in April 2013. To date, 223 cases of WPV1 have been confirmed in Somalia, Kenya and Ethiopia to date. The date of onset of the last case confirmed in Somalia was in August 2014, indicating ongoing circulation of WPV in the region. Up until 2013, Ethiopia was polio-free since 2008. However, since last year, Ethiopia has confirmed 10 cases of polio – a tragic setback for the country and for the families and children affected.

Legs of Ayan Yasin Confirmed Wild Polio Virus (WPV-1) case in Degafur rural village

Legs of Ayan Yasin Confirmed Wild Polio Virus (WPV-1) case in Degafur rural village, Somali region of Ethiopia ©UNICEF Ethiopia/2013/Sewunet

 Rotary International, a lead in the global polio eradication initiative, has contributed more than US$1.3 billion to eradication efforts globally to date. A new campaign promises that every dollar donated to Rotary will be matched 2-to-1 by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Rotary has announced a US$44.7 million grant to fight polio in Africa, Asia and the Middle East on 21st October this year and Ethiopia will receive US$ 2 million for polio eradication efforts in the country.

”Rotary International’s commitment to polio eradication has been instrumental in the swift and robust outbreak response in Ethiopia,” said Patrizia DiGiovanni, Acting Representative, UNICEF Ethiopia. “As partners in the fight against polio, we remain resolved to ensure no child is left unimmunized. Every child deserves the basic human right to health and we thank Rotary for their unwavering commitment in this endeavour.”

Nigeria has had only 6 cases this year, down from 49 in 2013. Afghanistan has reduced transmission to very low levels, with most cases linked to Pakistan.  With 206 cases already reported this year, Pakistan is now the world’s largest remaining reservoir of polio.

While polio remains endemic in only three countries, it continues to pose a risk to children everywhere, especially in countries which have not made routine immunization a priority, like South Sudan, the Central African Republic and Ukraine. Outbreaks in Syria, Iraq, Cameroon, Equatorial Guinea and Somalia can be traced to Pakistan and Nigeria.  

UNICEF procures 1.7 billion doses of oral polio vaccine to reach 500 million children every year. And UNICEF’s social mobilisation work helps persuade families to accept the vaccine when it reaches them.  Intensive efforts over the past decade have seen acceptance of the polio vaccine at their highest levels ever in countries where polio remains endemic.

 “The world has never been closer to this once-in-a-generation opportunity of eradicating polio for good,” Lake said. “Every child deserves to live in a polio-free world.”

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Girl’s Empowerment: the key to Ethiopia’s development

By: Dr Peter Salama, UNICEF Representative to Ethiopia

 Julius Court, Acting Head of Office, DFID Ethiopia

As we rapidly approach the deadline of 2015 for reporting our progress against the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), it is already clear that Ethiopia will have much success to report and an inspiring story to tell. Indeed most of the MDG targets will be not only met, but surpassed by a good distance, well ahead of time.

The wedding day

Girls and women everywhere have the right to live free from violence and discrimination. Help end child, early and forced marriage in a generation. Picture: Jessica Lea/Department for International Development

And yet the median age of marriage for girls is still 16.5 years. Indeed it is no coincidence that those MDGs that have been lagging the furthest behind are those to do with women and girls: MDG three on women’s empowerment and MDG five on maternal mortality.

A study commissioned by Girl Hub Ethiopia, a UK Department for International Development (DFID) project, found that if every Ethiopian girl who drops out of school was instead able to finish her education it would add US$4 billion to the country’s economy over the course of her lifetime.

As the country approaches a period of demographic dividend, with fewer young dependents, it has a major opportunity to benefit from the kind of economic growth we saw from the Asian Tiger economies. As the evidence shows, in the context of the next Growth and Transformation Plan, it will be impossible for Ethiopia to continue its economic and development progress at the same rate without addressing the issue of girls’ and women’s rights head on.

Acknowledging this, the Government of Ethiopia is, of course, already taking bold steps. At the Girl Summit – jointly hosted by the UK government and UNICEF in London in July 2014 – H.E. Demeke Mekonnen, Deputy PM, made a ground-breaking commitment on behalf of the Government of Ethiopia to eradicate child, early and forced marriage, and female genital mutilation/cutting (FGM/C) by 2025.

Much work has already gone into putting this commitment into action, but there are five areas that DFID and UNICEF believe are critical to any successful plan.

A girl student hard at work at Beseka ABE Center in in Fantale Woreda of Oromia State

A girl student hard at work at Beseka ABE Center in in Fantale Woreda of Oromia State ©UNICEF Ethiopia/2014/Ose

First, keeping girls in school, particularly through transition to secondary education and ensuring high quality basic education. At the same time, we need to ensure zero tolerance for violence within the school environment and ensure they have the right facilities for girls such as adequate sanitation.

In the Somali region of Ethiopia – where many aspects of gender inequality are particularly pronounced – DFID and UNICEF are jointly supporting a multi-sectoral Peace and Development Programme that will improve girls’ and women’s access to justice by establishing legal aid services and support services for female victims of violence.

Secondly, raising national rates of birth registration from the current level of less than 10 per cent to more than 90 per cent by 2020. Proof of age will assist in implementing and enforcing laws on child marriage and will also have positive knock-on effects on trafficking and illegal labour migration, for example. UNICEF supports the government of Ethiopia in establishing a vital event registration system (for births, deaths and marriages) in the country through technical and financial support. The support has allowed the enactment of a proclamation on vital events and the establishment of a national agency. Currently, regional laws are being adopted, regional bodies established, staff recruited and capacities developed.

Thirdly, changing social norms through an evidence-based, regional approach that is cognizant of and uses local languages and customs. DFID is supporting the Finote Hiwot project in Amhara to reduce child marriage through changing social norms and providing economic incentives for girls to stay in school.

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‘Yegna’ concert in Akaki ©Rachael Canter Flickr

Fourthly, changing public perceptions through multi-media campaigns that highlight positive role models to enable girls’ and young women’s empowerment. For example, Girl Hub Ethiopia’s Yegna radio programme uses both male and female role models to influence attitudes and behaviours towards girls. It broadcasts to more than five million people in Addis Ababa and the Amhara region and early data shows that 63 per cent of listeners say the programme made them think differently about issues in girls’ lives such as child marriage and gender-based violence.

The Ministry of Women, Children and Youth Affairs recently hosted a Girl Summit follow-up meeting to discuss how members of the National Alliance to End Child Marriage and the National FGM Network could help deliver the commitments Ethiopia made at the Summit. A 12-month communication campaign plan will be launched in the coming weeks.

Finally, contributing to the national, regional and global evidence and evaluation database is central to realising the commitment made at the Girl Summit. The National Alliance to End Child Marriage and the National FGM Network are improving data gathering and knowledge sharing and fostering innovation. We must ensure that relevant indicators on child marriage and FGM/C are included in next year’s Demographic Health Survey.

Of course there is a great deal to be optimistic about as we embark on this ambitious journey together. The Government of Ethiopia has demonstrated extraordinary commitment and we look for their future leadership by integrating girl issues into the GTP 2 and future sector policies.

We are confident that just as we do now in the social sector, in the future we will view Ethiopia as a model for delivering real change for girls and women.

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Saving the innocent: Ethiopia is keeping the promise it made to its children

By: Dr KesetebirhaneAdmasu, Minister of Health, Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia; Co-Chair, A Promise Renewed and the African leadership for Child Survival Initiative

Dr Peter Salama, UNICEF Representative to Ethiopia

Health extension worker Bruktawit Mulu

Bruktawit Mulu, left, Health Extension worker, counsels Wagage Finte, 35, with her infant son Eshetu Belish at home in the Kerer Kebele, Machakel distict, West Gojjam zone, Amhara region of Ethiopia, 2 July 2013. ©UNICEF Ethiopia/2013/Ose

In 2000, the world made a promise to reduce deaths among children under-five by two thirds by 2015, compared to 1990, the benchmark year for the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). With less than 460 days left until the deadline, great progress has been made in Ethiopia.

It is worth remembering that, just last year, Ethiopia achieved the child survival millennium development goal (MDG 4), three years ahead of time by cutting under-five mortality from 204per 1000 live births in 1990 to 68 per 1000 live births in 2012.

New UNICEF figures published last week in the Committing to Child Survival: A Promise Renewed report, show that Ethiopia continues to make progress in preventing deaths among children. Presentlythe number of under-five child deaths has fallen to 64per 1000 live births and more children are living to celebrate their fifth birthday.

Ethiopia’s experience and success can show world leaders some important lessons.

The first lesson is about leadership and country ownership. Governments need to lead and countries own the commitment. It may seem obvious but, despite much rhetoric, too often development priorities are still determined in Geneva or Washington rather than by the governments most concerned. By incorporating the MDGs into its national development plan, the Growth and Transformation Plan, and setting ambitious, national targets, the Government of Ethiopia has demonstrated strong leadership and country ownership, and consistently backed its decisions with high level commitment.

Second, evidence needs to determine policy choices. About 10 years ago, in order to address the increasing urban-rural gap in access to health services, the Government of Ethiopia launched the Health Extension Programme. The package of interventions wascarefully tailored to the major causes of mortality and morbidity, with epidemiology determining the priorities.

The early years were challenging, because delivering services to more than 80 million people in a vast and diverse country is not an easy task. However, year after year, the system has becomestronger and stronger, presently deploying over 38,000 government salaried rural and urban health extension workers. Starting from a focus on basic health promotion and disease prevention, incrementally high impact curative services have been integrated into the programme.

Side by side, multi-sectoral agendas have been incorporated to address root causes of childhood disease, such as food and nutrition security and water and sanitation. Community-based treatment of diarrhoea, pneumonia, malaria, severe acute malnutrition and, most recently, new-born sepsis and the inclusion of new vaccines are all now central components.

That leads us to the third lesson: that governments need to resource the plan and do so at scale. By putting the 38,000 mainly rural women on the government payroll, the government not only backed up its decision to bring health services to the doorstep of its rural people with real resources, but also sent a strong message that these health extension workers (HEWs) were here to stay. Sustainability was virtually guaranteed. The HEWs have since become a cornerstone of the health system. These young women represent the true heroes, or more precisely heroines, of this MDG story.

Members of the health development army-Kilte Awlalo District-Tigray Region

Members of the health development army who have come to discuss health service related issues with the Japanese Ambassador and UNICEF Representative to Ethiopia at a health post in Kilte Awlalo District, Tigray Region ©UNICEF Ethiopia/2012/Getachew

Prompted and encouraged by the success of the Health Extension Programme, Ethiopia has recently embarked on a new social mobilisation scheme which is referred to as Health Development Army (HDA).  HDA is a network of women volunteers organised to promote health, prevent disease through community participation and empowerment. The HDA has effectively facilitated the identification of local salient bottlenecks that hinder families from utilising key Maternal, Neonatal and Child Health Services and to come up with locally grown and acceptable strategies for addressing ongoing issues.  To date, the Government has been able to mobilise over three-million women to be part of an organized HDA.

But Ethiopia could not have done this alone. The fourth lesson is that international partners need to support the vision. In the concerted effort to save children’s lives, partners have played a key role. The bilateral government donors, the World Bank and UN agencies, NGOs and civil society, philanthropic foundations, and the private sector, have all played a key role through their funding, programmatic, operational and technical assistance, and their belief that Ethiopia could achieve its goals. Thanks to these coordinated efforts, Ethiopia has slashed child mortality rates. In 1990, 1 in 5 Ethiopian children could be expected to die before reaching the age of 5. Today, the figure is closer to 1 in 15. Well over 1 million children have been saved during this period.

While we deserve to celebrate our accomplishment, we also need to remind ourselves that we have a long way to go, because close to205,000 children under five years of age are still dying every year and nearly 43 per cent of these children are dying in their first 28 days of life. This means that more than 500 Ethiopian children die every day, mostly from preventable diseases. We also need to further address disparities in the delivery of services between rich and poor, urban and rural, pastoralist and agrarian areas, able and disabled and women and men. We also have to work hard to increase the quality of services rendered.

But Ethiopia has shown that a poor country, once only associated with famine and conflict, can become a leader for global health and development. The country is on a trajectory to bend the curve and achieve a major goal of “A Promise Renewed”, which is reducing the level of child death to 20 under-five deaths per 1000 live births by 2035.​  For Africa, there are no longer any excuses.

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In Ethiopia, Nationwide Polio Vaccination Campaign Reaches 13 Million Children

Sahro Ahmed vaccinates a child

Sahro Ahmed vaccinates a child in Warder, Somali region, Ethiopia. © UNICEF Ethiopia/2013/Sewunet

Somali Region, Ethiopia, 12 May, 2014 – Ethiopia kicked off a polio vaccination campaign on 3 October 2013, targeting 13 million children across the country following an emergency response that began in the Dollo Ado refugee camps in June 2013. In July 2013, Ethiopia Reports First Wild Poliovirus Case since 2008.

Ayan Yasin, a four-year-old girl, was one of the first confirmed polio cases in Ethiopia. Ayan lives with her father and mother, a typical pastoralist family, in their house, made of tin, wood and woven bed sheets in a remote secluded area three kilometres from Geladi Woreda in Ethiopia’s Somali Region. Living next to the Somalia border means that the family move frequently between Ethiopia and Somalia – making routine immunisation practices difficult.

When Ayan fell sick, her father took her to the nearest hospital in Somalia where he was told there was very little hope. After many visits to various health posts, Hergeisa Hospital finally confirmed she had Polio. “We call this illness the disease of the wind. We know that there is no cure for it, and that it can paralyse and even cause death. My daughter hasn’t died but it has disabled her forever,” says her father.

Close to 50,000 health workers and volunteers and 16,000 social mobilisers have been deployed all over the country as part of a campaign that includes remote and hard to access areas. With the support of the Crown Prince Court, Abu Dhabi, UAE, UNICEF has procured vaccines to support immunisation efforts particularly for children and the refugee population being hosted in the Somali Region. In total, 135,000 vials or 2.7 million doses of bivalent Oral Polio Vaccine (bOPV) were procured to immunise 2.43 million children with a polio vaccine – a critical input to immunisation activities in the Somali Region and Polio high-risk areas. The support from the Crown Prince Court has also helped to airlift the Polio vaccine to hard-to-reach zones of Afder, Gode and Dollo in the Somali Region.

Synchronised cross-border polio outbreak preparedness and response

Parents of Ayan Yasin Confirmed Wild Polio Virus (WPV-1) case in Degafur rural village

Parents of Ayan Yasin Confirmed Wild Polio Virus (WPV-1) case, lives in a border close to Somalia, in Degafur rural village, Somali region of Ethiopia. ©UNICEF Ethiopia/2013/Sewunet

Supplementary Immunisation Activities (SIAs) were conducted in Ethiopia, Somalia, Kenya, and Djibouti to accelerate progress towards ending Polio in the Horn of Africa. The synchronised SIAs were an outcome of the Horn of Africa Countries Cross-Border Polio Outbreak Preparedness and Response Meeting in Jigjiga, from 21 to 23 May 2014, where Ethiopia, Somalia, Kenya and Djibouti agreed to strengthen cross-border collaboration to eradicate polio from the Horn of Africa.

To reinforce support and strengthen Polio eradication efforts in the Somali Region, a high-level delegation consisting of Dr Kebede Worku, State Minister of Health, Mr Abdufatah Mohammed Hassen, Vice President of Ethiopia’s Somali Regional State and Head of the Somali Regional Health Bureau, Dr Pierre M’Pele-Kilebou, WHO Representative to Ethiopia, and Dr Willis Ogutu, Head of UNICEF programme in Somali Region, visited Warder in Dollo Zone, the epicentre of the wild polio virus outbreak in Ethiopia, on 14 June 2014. The delegation, together with the Warder Zonal Administration, launched the ninth round of Supplementary Immunisation Activities (SIAs) in the outbreak zone and formally inaugurated the Zonal Polio Outbreak Command Post, which had been established in April 2014 to improve coordination of response activities.

Sustained interventions to ensure long-term success

While the campaigns to vaccinate children against Polio in the Somali Region have been going well, ensuring long-term success in eliminating the disease will require sustained interventions.

Abdufatah Mohammud Hassen believes the best solution is to immunise every child and ramp up routine immunisation activities in the region. “The campaigns are just to stop the emergency but the main thing that we are doing is to reach every child by strengthening the routine EPI and ensuring that the health facilities have the capacity to respond to the demands of the public”

With the help of developing partners like the Crown Prince Court, Abu Dhabi, UAE, Rotary International European Commission of Humanitarian Department (ECHO) and Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, UNICEF together with the Ministry of Health is continuing its efforts so that young children like Ayan Yasin living in the region are protected from the disabling symptoms of the Polio disease.

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Scaling up high-impact solutions for Ethiopia’s newborn

After convening the 2013 African Leadership for Child Survival A Promise Renewed, a regional forum that called for greater accountability for Africa’s mothers and children, the Government of Ethiopia is leading by example. With support from UNICEF and other partners, the government is implementing a bold strategy that targets the country’s hardest-to-reach mothers and newborns. The three-pronged strategy is scaling up the coverage of community-based new-born care, which includes sepsis treatment; immediate essential newborn care in health centres and district hospitals; and neonatal intensive care units in hospitals.

Scaling Up High-Impact Solutions For Ethiopia’s Newborns

© UNICEF-ETHA2013_00486-Ose

The combination of innovative, evidence-based strategies and the government’s long legacy of leadership on maternal, newborn and child survival is yielding impressive results. Ethiopia achieved MDG 4 three years ahead of schedule by cutting under-five mortality from 205 per 1,000 live births in 1990 to 68 per 1,000 in 2012. Ethiopia’s progress illustrates that countries can achieve dramatic declines in child mortality, despite constrained resources. It puts Ethiopia on a trajectory to bend the curve and achieve a major goal of A Promise Renewed — 20 under-five deaths per 1,000 live births by 2035.

For more information read the story on http://apromiserenewed.org/Ethiopia.html

 

 

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Despite dramatic progress on child survival, 1 million children die during their first day of life from mostly preventable causes

Analysis points to health system failures at critical time around birth as a significant contributing factor to these needless deaths

New York, 16 September 2014 – Child survival rates have increased dramatically since 1990, during which time the absolute number of under-five deaths has been slashed in half from 12.7 million to 6.3 million, according to a report released today by UNICEF.
The 2014 Committing to Child Survival: A Promise Renewed progress report, indicates that the first 28 days of a newborn’s life are the most vulnerable with almost 2.8 million babies dying each year during this period. One million of them don’t even live to see their second day of life.

Many of these deaths could be easily prevented with simple, cost-effective interventions before, during and immediately after birth.

Analysis points to failures in the health system during the critical time around delivery as a significant contributing factor to these unnecessary deaths. It also shows that there is considerable variation – from country to country and between rich and poor – in the take-up and quality of health services available to pregnant women and their babies.

Key findings in this study include:

  • Around half of all women do not receive the recommended minimum of four antenatal care visits during their pregnancy.
  • Complications during labour and delivery are responsible for around one quarter of all neonatal deaths worldwide. In 2012, 1 in 3 babies (approximately 44 million) entered the world without adequate medical support.
  • Evidence shows that initiating breastfeeding within one hour of birth reduces the risk of neonatal death by 44 per cent, yet less than half of all newborns worldwide receive the benefits of immediate breastfeeding.
  • Quality of care is grossly lacking even for mothers and babies who have contact with the health system. A UNICEF analysis of 10 high mortality countries indicates that less than 10 percent of babies delivered by a skilled birth attendant went on to receive the seven required post-natal interventions, including early initiation of breastfeeding. Similarly, less than 10 per cent of mothers who saw a health worker during pregnancy received a core set of eight prenatal interventions.
  • Those countries with some of the highest number of neonatal deaths also have a low coverage of postnatal care for mothers. Ethiopia (84,000 deaths; 7 per cent coverage); Bangladesh (77,000; 27 per cent); Nigeria (262,000; 38 per cent); Kenya (40,000; 42 per cent).
  • Babies born to mothers under the age of 20 and over the age of 40 have higher mortality rates.

Additionally, the report shows that the education level and age of the mother has a significant bearing on the chances of her baby’s survival. Neonatal mortality rates among mothers with no education are nearly twice as high for those with secondary schooling and above.

“The data clearly demonstrate that an infant’s chances of survival increase dramatically when their mother has sustained access to quality health care during pregnancy and delivery,” said Geeta Rao Gupta, UNICEF Deputy Executive Director. “We need to make sure that these services, where they exist, are fully utilised and that every contact between a mother and her health worker really counts. Special efforts must also be made to ensure that the most vulnerable are reached.”
Inequality, particularly in health care access, remains high in the least developed countries: women from the richest households are almost three times as likely as those from the poorest to deliver their baby with a skilled birth attendant. Despite this, the report suggests that the equity gap in under-5 child mortality is steadily reducing. In every region, except sub-Saharan Africa, the proportion of under-five mortality among the poorest sections of society is declining faster than in the richest. More significantly, worldwide, the poor are registering greater absolute gains in child survival than their wealthier compatriots. “It is deeply heartening that the equity gap in child survival is continuing to narrow,” said Rao Gupta. “We need to harness this momentum and use it to drive forward programmes that focus resources on the poorest and marginalised households; a strategy which has the potential to save the largest number of children’s lives.”

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Note to editors:

About A Promise Renewed

A Promise Renewed is a global movement that seeks to advance Every Woman Every Child – a strategy launched by United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to mobilize and intensify global action to improve the health of women and children around – through action and advocacy to accelerate reductions in preventable maternal, newborn and child deaths.

The movement emerged from the Child Survival Call to Action convened in June 2012 by the Governments of Ethiopia, India and the United States, in collaboration with UNICEF, to examine ways to spur progress on child survival. It is based on the ethos that child survival is a shared responsibility and everyone – governments, civil society, the private sector and individuals – has a vital contribution to make.

Since June 2012, 178 governments and many civil society organizations, private sector organizations and individuals have signed a pledge to redouble their efforts, and are turning these commitments into action and advocacy. More details on A Promise Renewed are available at www.apromiserenewed.org.

About Committing to Child Survival: A Promise Renewed 2014 Progress Report

This year’s annual report focuses on newborn survival. This report not only presents levels and trends in under-five and neonatal mortality since 1990, but also provides analysis on key interventions for mother and newborn.

About UNICEF UNICEF works in more than 190 countries and territories to help children survive and thrive, from early childhood through adolescence. The world’s largest provider of vaccines for developing countries, UNICEF supports child health and nutrition, good water and sanitation, quality basic education for all boys and girls, and the protection of children from violence, exploitation, and AIDS. UNICEF is funded entirely by the voluntary contributions of individuals, businesses, foundations and governments. For more information about UNICEF and its work visit: http://www.unicef.org/

Follow us on Twitter and Facebook
For further information please contact: Rita Ann Wallace, UNICEF New York, +1 917 213-4034; rwallace@unicef.org  Melanie Sharpe, UNICEF New York, +1 917-485-3344, msharpe@unicef.org Najwa Mekki, UNICEF New York, nmekki@unicef.org, +1917 209 1804

 

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New Year, potable water- How we spent our Ethiopian New year holiday

By Simon Odong

Kule Refugee Camp, Gambella, September 11, 2014- While the Americans were commemorating the 13th anniversary of 9/11 attack  on the world trade centre, the Ethiopians celebrated their 2007 new year day, we were with the South Sudanese Refugees in Kule settlement camp turning swamp water into safe drinking (potable) water.

Kule Refugee camp, opened in May 2015 and it  is home to over 50,000 refugees who fled from South Sudan due to conflict. The recent rains in Gambella coupled with run-off from the high lands channelled through Baro River, have already caused widespread flooding in Lietchuor Refugee Camp and Itang Town. The same rains have rendered most roads in Kule and Tierkidi Refugee camps making them inaccessible by large trucks. This means, nearly half of the population in Kule cannot be served with potable water through water trucking.As a result, women and children had to walk between two to four Kilometres to the nearest water point within the camp, while others resorted to drinking surface water.

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© UNICEF Ethiopia/2012/Odong A Refugee Woman Draws water from the Swamp on September 11 before completion of emergency water treatment installation

In Response to this, The UN Refugees Agency (UNHCR), have ordered an immediate repair of all roads starting with the overburdened spots. While the roads are being fixed by Norwegian Refugee Council, Oxfam with support from UNICEF, today installed an emergency water treatment kit (EmWat) to minimise the health risks of using surface water and to reduce the burden of women, boys and girls hauling water over long distances.

The EmWat kit is donated by UNICEF, installed by Oxfam with technical support from UNICEF and UNHCR. As a stop-gap measure it will provide safe drinking water to some 12,000 refugees residing in the hard to reach portion of the. Until a time when the in-camp roads are accessible by water trucks. The kit works on the principles of aided sedimentation, filtration and disinfection before distribution through a tap stand connected to a raised storage tank.

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© UNICEF Ethiopia/2012/Odong EmWat kit sedimentation tank

The long term solution to this problem however, is the construction of a piped water scheme. With an estimated US$2.5Millions, UNICEF is supporting this sustainable solution through designing the system; construction of water reservoir tanks and technical support to partners implementing the other portion of the system. Once completed, between April and May 2015, it will serve some 120,000 persons including the surrounding host communities of the two camps (Kule and Tierkidi).

In the WASH sector, UNICEF is supporting the Gambella operation in emergency areas such as this by pre-positioning essential supplies and equipment; support to sector coordination; mitigating the effects of the displacement on the host communities; looking beyond the emergency and providing ad-hoc technical support to partners.

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© UNICEF Ethiopia/2012/Odong Refugees accessing clean potable water from the EmWat Kit

One refugee woman had this to say after fetching water from the installed kit, “Yesterday was my first day to drink water from this swamp after I felt tired of walking to Zone C, why didn’t you people bring this thing (meaning Emwat Kit) yesterday?”  This was how we spent our Ethiopian New Year, thanks to Oxfam who is now running the kit.

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