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Kenya’s malnourished children may have doubled in number due to drought

© UNICEF video
A malnourished child receiving supplementary feeding at Wajir District Hospital, where his mother brought him for treatment. The hospital has been overwhelmed with sick children because of the drought.

By Jane O’Brien

NEW YORK, USA, 20 January 2006 – UNICEF is warning that the number of severely malnourished children in drought-stricken Kenya may have doubled in the last few months. In October 2005 the figure was thought to be around 20,000. It’s now believed some 40,000 are in need of immediate life-saving assistance.

Millions of people in the north of the country are facing disease and starvation as the year-long drought continues. 1.2 million people are already receiving food aid, but that number could rise to 2.5 million by the end of this year. Young children, pregnant women and breastfeeding mothers are among the most vulnerable.

The Kenyan Government has declared a state of emergency and is appealing for food and other aid.

“I would like people to really listen to the reports coming out of those districts – the affected areas – and start responding,” says Heimo Laakkonen, UNICEF Representative in Kenya. “Start helping those agencies, the government and other external agencies, who are working in those difficult conditions.”

© UNICEF video
Government health programmes supported by UNICEF and partners are helping to feed hundreds of severely malnourished children in Mandera District.

The arid plains are strewn with the carcasses of cattle. Cattle are essential to the survival of people here, but farmers have lost up to 40 per cent of their livestock – and the next few months could bring further catastrophic losses.

“As we go towards April the situation is going to deteriorate further and further and further,” says Abdi Rizak Ahmed, Deputy Drought Manager, Wajir District. We are projecting that there may be an estimated loss of up to 70 or 80 per cent of the livestock – 80 per cent of the livestock by April!”

UNICEF supplementary feeding programmes alongside basic food distribution have helped to reduce some child deaths, but diseases such as measles and diarrhoea are a constant threat.

UNICEF is scaling up its efforts to help the government prevent and manage these and other illnesses – and targeted feeding programmes will also increase. 150,000 children will be provided with long-lasting, insecticide-treated mosquito nets, along with anti-malarial treatment for 40,000 adults and 100,000 children.

Around 8 million dollars is needed for emergency health care and nutrition, but there’s likely to be a shortfall of more than $3.5 million.

As the drought continues and temperatures rise, so does the scale of this crisis. Without urgent aid it will claim the lives of many more.




20 January 2006:
UNICEF correspondent Jane O’Brien reports on the growing crisis affecting children in northern Kenya.

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