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Thursday, July 22, 1999 Published at 13:13 GMT 14:13 UK

World: Africa

Debt 'killing children'

Children's health is suffering as governments struggle to pay debts

Mortality rates among mothers and children are rising as a result of the crippling cost of debt in the world's poorest countries, says a United Nations report.

World Debt
Unicef says women and children are bearing the brunt of the debt crisis, especially in Africa, where many governments are diverting resources away from health and education.

As a result, hundreds of millions of people are suffering from ill health, and children are being condemned to a life without schooling, says the annual Progress of Nations report.

[ image:  ]
The report draws up a league table of countries where children are most at risk. Angola comes out as as the worst country for a child to live in.

It also assesses the progress being made in the battle against polio, and the impact of Aids on children.

Following Angola, the organisation ranks Sierra Leone, Afghanistan and Somalia as the next most dangerous places to grow up.

In Angola, the continuing civil war, the virtual collapse of the health system, a lack of basic education and nationwide food shortages combine to make it the worst place for children.

  • See: Angola - no place for a child

    The quality of life indicators chosen by Unicef are

    • Mortality rates for under-fives
    • The percentage of underweight children
    • Primary school attendance
    • Risk from armed conflict
    • The prevalence of Aids.

    Not surprisingly, advanced western countries do best.

    New call for debt relief

    The UN children's organisation calls for the outright cancellation of all debt.

    [ image: Debt relief could help combat poverty, says Unicef]
    Debt relief could help combat poverty, says Unicef
    It says the present scheme to offer debt relief to the world's 41 poorest and most heavily-indebted countries is too rigid and too slow.

    Countries have to wait six years before becoming eligible and so far only three - Uganda, Bolivia and Guyana - have benefited.

    Its executive director, Carole Bellamy, says sub-Saharan Africa is the worst affected.

    "Sub-Saharan Africa alone is caught in a debt trap. The governments spend more on servicing their more than $300bn debt than on the health and education of their children "

    Far from rewarding irresponsibility, Unicef believes debt relief is an essential weapon in the fight against poverty.

    Without it, the agency says, the goal of cutting world poverty by half by 2015 is unattainable.

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