The marks of gunshots at Government primary school Egbekaw, a village in Mamfe, South West Region of Cameroon, are telling signs that schools are now considered “no go” areas in the region.
Since the crisis started in 2016, schools have been the front line of the battle raging between seperatists fighters and security forces. According statistics, arson attacks on schools and other pubic structures have been on the rise leaving many children and families helpless.
According to the International Crisis Group think-tank, rising violence in Cameroon’s North West and South West regions, has claimed the lives of at least 420 civilians, 175 members of the security forces and an unknown number of separatists.
The United Nations Children’s Organisation, UNICEF Cameroon, estimates that the conflict has created more than 246,000 Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) in the South West region and over 100 in the North West region.
It is against these backdrop of events, that Manuel Fontaine, UNICEF Director of the Office of Emergency Programmes, visited Cameroon, to evaluate situation in the crisis stricken regions and see how the Children’s organisation can assist and respond to the growing humanitarian needs.
In a press briefing with journalists at the UNICEF’s head office in Yaounde, Manuel Fontaine said UNICEF’s evaluation so far revealed that, children in the regions are not sufficiently immunised, do not have access to health services and education due to the worsening crisis.
Fontaine however stated that humanitarian needs can be revealed as the organisation gets direct access to the people in the regions.
When quizzed on how UNICEF can guarantee the safety of schools, the UNICEF Director said, Cameroon has signed the safe schools declaration. “As a humanitarian organisation, we can only assist and hope both government and separatists see schools as sanctuaries which need to be protected, because it is the future of the children in these regions which is at stake”.
Asked why UNICEF is only coming now and if the organisation has the power to end the war, Manuel Fontaine said UNICEF is a humanitarian organisation and not the military or government. “We are about giving assistance and second chances. To define the needs of the people, we need to be in contact with the people, we have been doing that and we will keep playing our humanitarian role”.
In the end, Manuel Fontaine urged partners to increase aid in the bid to enable UNICEF fully realised its humanitarian emergency response plans in the regions.
It should be recalled that UNICEF has started implementing a project in child protection, and is currently preparing to implement projects in health, water and sanitation, and nutritional screening in the regions.
UNICEF, it was revealed, requires US$15 million in funding to continue its emergency response in Cameroon’s English speaking regions.