12/15/2006, 00.00
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Silent massacre of children and mothers

by Prakash Dubey
A Red Cross report says every year three times as many children and mothers die than in ten years of Maoist revolt. The international community and humanitarian organisations have failed to see the situation and focused instead on the Maoist guerrilla.

Kathmandu (AsiaNews) – There is dismay among human rights activists in Nepal after a report by the International Red Cross Federation revealed that the country does not invest adequate resources in the fight against child and maternal mortality as well as natural disaster-related deaths. According to report editor Jonathan Walter, the media has focused on the ten-year conflict, whilst the deaths of more than 5,000 mothers and 30,000 newborns per year and ways to prevent them have gone unnoticed.

“Twenty-five times more women died over the period than people in the conflict,” Walter said. He also stressed that the deep misery of the population just got worse over those years.

“For many people, daily life contains the seed of crisis. Neglecting their vulnerability turns today's risk into tomorrow's disaster,” said Markku Niskala, the Federation's secretary general.

The report called for ten per cent of relief aid to be set aside to help the population face everyday life and make it less uncertain.

The report also claimed that the gap in focus in some humanitarian crises “may also reflect the limited capacity of the global humanitarian system to respond” as well as power politics.

Norbert Rai, a Nepali Christian and social activist, told AsiaNews that “the death of so many mothers and children from pregnancy-related factors is the cause for dismay in the country, a problem ignored so far. National and foreign media have distracted us from this situation and made us attentive to the Maoist rebellion”.

“It is ironic that in the last six months, ever since the government and Maoist rebels signed an armistice, there have been far fewer clashes and related deaths and yet the media has continued to ignore the high number of deaths among women and children despite being so high every day. Even international humanitarian organisations have paid closer attention to the Maoist guerrilla than to the problems and inadequacies of the health system which kills hundreds of women and children every day.”

Buddhist monk Bhante Dharamanand is also critical. Speaking to AsiaNews he said that even today we tend to be more attentive to clashes between the Maoists and the army. We are more concerned about bombs and firearms, whilst the real enemy is our insensitivity to the silent deaths, those caused by poverty and disease and natural disasters among the more miserable people living in the country’s remoter rural areas. Now the report has opened our eyes, but I doubt it will do so for our political and social leaders”.

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