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Hundreds of thousands of children at risk in Ivory Coast

The lives of hundreds of thousands of children in the Ivory Coast are at risk amid what is being called a ‘humanitarian emergency.’

Cases of malaria, diarrhoea and food and drug shortages are growing, amid the political upheaval after the west African country’s disputed election, the United Nations children’s agency, Unicef warned.

Schools there are closed for about 800,000 children, hospitals are running out of medicines, including drugs for new cases of HIV-positive pregnant women who want to prevent passing the infection on to their babies.

The UN says 1.5 million people are at risk of deadly diseases and there are already outbreaks of yellow fever, measles and cholera, which has infected 516 and killed 12.

"The situation in Côte d'Ivoire is not just about political deadlock; it is a situation where the entire population of 20 million people could be affected if the current humanitarian crisis escalates into a full blown emergency," said Unicef’s Louis Vigneault.

"There are already outbreaks of yellow fever, measles and cholera in Abidjan. It is very unusual for cholera to surface during the dry season and we are concerned that power cuts in other parts of the country will reduce access to clean water and sanitation spreading the risk of epidemic to even more people," Mr Vigneault said.

The violence started when the country’s president, Laurent Gbagbo refused to step down after a disputed November election which his rival, Alassane Ouattara, won, according to the UN.

More than 400 people have been killed since the elections and more than 450,000 people have fled their homes because of the post-election fighting, according to the UN refugee agency. About 80,000 refugees have poured into neighbouring Liberia. Meanwhile, the price of basic food has gone up by 80 per cent.

There are growing fears the situation could deteriorate into civil war.

"There's already a pretty gruesome humanitarian disaster going on," a diplomat told the Guardian newspaper. "It will get worse when the electricity is cut off. Civil war is a real possibility. It will be very destructive, not just in terms of lives and homes but Ivory Coast as a nation. It could be a bloodbath here. That's a dreadful outcome," he said.

Unicef has been handing out high-protein biscuits to the homeless and set up places where people can get water. It has made schools into temporary malnutrition treatment clinics.

Hayley attribution