Nairobi, 8 October 2005, UNICEF has urgently appealed for US$4 million to assist children in drought affected northern Kenya. More than 20,000 children are malnourished or at serious risk of malnutrition. The risk of polio has soared with cases now reported in Sudan, Ethiopia and Somalia, which border the remote, drought-affected districts in Kenya. Meanwhile, rising tribal and clan violence, often politically motivated and related to competition over scarce water resources, has targeted children, costing lives and injuries, and forcing thousands to abandon their homes.
“Children and families in northern Kenya are caught in a tragic struggle between the forces of nature, lack of development and sporadic outbreaks of horrific violence,” said UNICEF Representative Heimo Laakkonen.
“We need resources now to provide urgent assistance to 21,000 children facing malnutrition, to immunize almost a million vulnerable children against polio and to provide water to 100,000 people in critical need,” he said.
UNICEF also called for funds to provide long lasting insecticide treated nets to 96,000 children to protect them from malaria. To protect children from violence and assist their recovery, UNICEF is also seeking funds to establish 10 protective drop-in centres with counseling support, and to ensure school continues for at least 40,000 children who would otherwise have dropped-out due to drought stress and/or violence.
OVER ONE IN FIVE CHILDREN MALNOURISHED
In the past year, improvement in rainfall in some areas of Kenya has not been enough to improve pasture and water for livestock or increase agricultural production. As a result, household food security has remained precarious in many districts. Working with the government and other organizations, UNICEF-supported assessments showed that more than a quarter of children in Mandera district, and more than one in every five children in the vast Turkana district, are acutely malnourished.
The effects of food shortages are compounded by poor child care practices including infrequent feeding of infants and young children, and high levels of poverty. The education of girls – which is always a key factor in improving infant and child health and survival – is lowest in northern Kenya, where less than a third of girls ever attend school. Health systems are also poorly managed, and water points are often overwhelmed leading to environmental degradation as well as tension and sometimes violence between competing groups.
VIOLENCE MARKS CHILDREN’S LIVES
Laakkonen praised efforts by the government to broker peace between groups in conflict, some of which have met with success. “Yet the risk of more violence remains, and the legacy of these brutal attacks marks children for months, years, even for life.”
Laakkonen referred in particular to the brutal attacks in Marsabit district in July, where over a hundred people were killed, including 22 children who were slaughtered at their primary boarding school, and Mandera district where 22 women and children were killed in March in a dawn raid by a rival clan. Many more were injured and were forced to flee from their homes.
“Those behind these atrocities deliberately set out to kill children,” protested Laakkonen, “and these are not the only attacks this year in which children have been among the victims.”
A recent UNICEF review of the impact of tribal and clan conflict in Kenya listed some of the clashes that have occurred in 2005, including those witnessed in Laikipia between the Maasai and white land owners; in Kwanza between the Pokot and the Bukusu; in Mandera between the Garre and Murulle clans; in Maai Mahiu between the Maasai and the Kikuyu; in Kitengela between the Maasai and the Kamba; and in Marsabit between the Borana and the Gabra communities. Since December 2004 an estimated 20,000 people have been displaced by violence in Mandera district. In many areas, even before the clashes, children and women were sexually assaulted while they were out searching for water and fuel wood. In most cases the perpetrators act with impunity.
Laakkonen said that the source of these attacks lies in poverty, lawlessness, poor governance, and lack of investment and development, including inadequate access to reproductive health services, schools and water supply – all of which exacerbate competition over resources during times of scarcity.
“We must ensure immediate emergency support to the children and their families who are so critically affected by the drought and by violence, while also backing government initiatives to increase investment and sustainable development in these environmentally precarious districts.
These issues are the focus of concerted support by United Nations agencies in Kenya,” he added.
In September the wild polio virus was reported in Somalia, making the situation for Kenya critical. Movement across the Somali-Kenyan border is frequent and usually unregulated. In view of the real risk of the spread of polio to Kenya, UNICEF and WHO are supporting an emergency Government campaign to vaccinate children in 20 of the most vulnerable districts. The first round of the campaign is slated for early October. Funds are still needed to enable completion of the second round of the polio campaign in November.
UNICEF works closely with the Office of the President, and other agencies, to help coordinate emergency assistance to children and families. In the past year, UNICEF’s emergency response includes support for mobile clinics, supplementary feeding for almost 22,000 children and 3,400 pregnant and nursing mothers, distribution of medical kits benefiting about 310,000 people, delivering emergency water supplies to more than 200,000 people, and engaging over 50,000 people in a large scale hygiene and sanitation campaign. UNICEF has also supplied thousands of education kits to schools in drought-affected areas.
For further information, please contact:
Sara Cameron, Communication Officer, UNICEF-Kenya, Nairobi: tel:254-20-622977,e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
Brenda Kariuki, Assistant Communication Officer, Nairobi tel:+254-20-622977, +254 722 880067, e-mail: email@example.com