UNICEF UK has launched an appeal for funds for children affected by the violence in Côte d'Ivoire (Ivory Coast).

"UNICEF continues to be gravely concerned by the ongoing violence in Côte d'Ivoire and its alarming impact on children," said Anthony Lake, UNICEF Executive Director, in a statement earlier today.

Fighting in Côte d'Ivoire has been intermittent since the disputed Presidential election in November 2010. Alassane Ouattara, leader of the Rally of the Republicans party (RDR), was internationally recognised as the victor, but incumbent President Laurent Gbagbo has refused to hand over power.

In the past month, clashes between forces loyal to Gbagbo and Outtara have intensified dramatically.

Over 500,000 Ivorians, the majority of which are women and children, have been displaced by the conflict, with more than 100,000 Ivorians living as refugees in Liberia, half of whom are estimated to be children.

High levels of malnutrition have been found among the refugees and cases of diarrhoea and malaria have increased. Some 1.5 million people risk the lack of safe water in the centre, north and west of Côte d'Ivoire. There are also rising concerns about the use of child soldiers in the region.

"Children continue to be recruited by armed forces on all sides of the conflict," said Lake. "This is a grave violation of their rights which jeopardizes not only their future but also the chances for achieving sustainable peace in Côte d'Ivoire."

Lake added: "UNICEF is working to assist those in need with humanitarian supplies, but our programmes have been seriously compromised by the fighting. We urgently need to reach those at risk, especially in Abidjan, where an estimated one million displaced people are in dire need. We fear outbreaks of disease if we and other agencies cannot reach the thousands of internally displaced families."

"UNICEF joins its voice to the many others who have called upon all sides in this conflict to cease the violence against civilians and to permit humanitarian aid workers to reach those in greatest need."

Mohamed, 7 and his sister Mabo, 12 © UNICEF/NYHQ2011-0149/Asselin
Mohamed, 7 and his sister Mabo, 12. Their parents were away when violence erupted in their town, and a neighbour helped them flee to another town, where they stayed with a family of strangers.© UNICEF/NYHQ2011-0149/Asselin