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UNICEF: Nepal shortages endanger millions of children

Unrest over a new constitution in Nepal has put millions of children at risk of disease, the UN children's agency warns. Protesting ethnic Madhesi groups have blockaded trucks from entering the country from India.

On Monday UNICEF reported that blockades

severe shortages of food, medicines and vaccines

, which were putting the lives of more than 3 million children at risk.

The country has seen

major unrest since September,

when it adopted a new constitution that Madhesis - who share close cultural links with India - claim is unfair.

Disruption to the landlocked country, which depends on India for the transport of much of its supplies, has left aid organizations struggling to provide relief. Nepal is still

recovering from an April 25 earthquake,

and UNICEF has warned that children are likely to be worst-hit by the shortages.

Protest gegen Verfassungsänderung in Nepal

There have been protests across the country, sometimes turning violent

"They could now be facing a new disaster - without adequate food, protection from the cold, or health care," said Anthony Lake, UNICEF's chief executive.

The risk of hypothermia and malnutrition was said to be a danger, especially in combination with the lack of medicines and vaccines.

Children expected to be born in the next two months were said to be at "particular risk," with fuel shortages hitting ambulance services hard. A spike in cases of pneumonia was also expected.

'No time to lose'

UNICEF urged all sides in the constitutional dispute to end the restrictions on essential supplies.

"The plight that children and their families are facing in the country has been worsening by the day and will deteriorate further in the winter months," Karin Hulshof, UNICEF's regional director for South Asia, said in a statement. "There is no time to lose," she added.

Scores of trucks have been stuck at Nepal's Birgunj border checkpoint, with protesters from the Mahesi minority blocking a bridge there for over two months.

Meanwhile, movements at other border entry points have slowed dramatically, leading the Nepalese government to accuse India of imposing an unofficial blockade.

New Delhi denies that it is imposing a blockade, urging the Nepalese government to engage in dialogue with Madhesi leaders.

rc/ (AFP, AP, Reuters)

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