Children face devastating climate emergency in the Horn of Africa
Millions of children are at risk from one of the worst climate-induced emergencies in decades.
What’s happening in the Horn of Africa?
A prolonged drought across large swathes of Somalia, Ethiopia and Kenya has unleashed hunger, thirst, displacement and death on already vulnerable communities as crops fail and livestock die. Communities have been forced to take extreme measures to survive, with thousands of children and families leaving their homes out of pure desperation in search of water, food, pasture, and treatment for sick children.
Heavy rains in early 2023 brought some relief to several drought-affected areas in northern Kenya, Ethiopia and Somalia. However, historic drought conditions have left the ground parched and unable to absorb the excess water, leading to devastating flooding in some areas that further increased displacement as well as the risk of waterborne diseases such as cholera.
The increasing severity and frequency of droughts mean many households have no chance to recover as they are buffeted by floods, the spread of diseases, conflict and insecurity. UNICEF has been scaling-up the procurement and positioning of essential lifesaving supplies, building on its longstanding presence in the region and working with partners to expand critical services. Read more about UNICEF’s response and what UNICEF is calling for.
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How are children affected?
Consecutive seasons of poor rainfall has killed crops, animals and livestock, resulting in the loss of nutritious food. This, coupled with poor access to safe water and sanitation, has left many children at a high risk of malnutrition. As a result, the number of children in the Horn of Africa region who are suffering from severe acute malnutrition – the deadliest form of malnutrition – has soared.
The climate-induced crisis has also worsened disease and displacement, forcing children to move in search of food and water. As a result of the crisis, children are falling sick, going hungry, missing school, being pressured into child labour, and in some areas are at heightened risk of being forced into early marriage.
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How is UNICEF responding to climate crises in the region?
UNICEF is working to ensure that drought-affected children and families can receive the lifesaving support they so urgently need, while also supporting their recovery and building resilience against future shocks.
UNICEF is working with partners to:
- Provide access to safe water, sanitation and hygiene. This includes emergency water trucking, urgent rehabilitation and repairs of water supply systems, drilling new boreholes, and hygiene promotion activities.
- Ensure access to nutritional support. This includes increasing procurement of Ready to Use Therapeutic Food (RUTF) and expanding the number of nutrition sites to boost treatment of severe acute malnutrition.
- Prioritize child protection services. These include support for survivors of gender-based violence and delivering family tracing and reunification services.
- Provide basic education in safe and protective learning environments. This includes a two-pronged approach: Ensuring affected children can remain in their current schools while also providing access to learning opportunities for those who have been displaced.
- Support health care for children and women. This means expanding facility-based and mobile health and nutrition teams to improve access to essential lifesaving services, including critical routine vaccinations for children under five and increasing the number of treatment centres.
In July 2022, UNICEF launched a regional call to action to address the drought crisis. Thanks to early and rapid interventions by partners and donors in 2022, UNICEF provided lifesaving aid to children and communities across the region. But food insecurity and other needs remain high due to the sheer magnitude of the crisis and the years of hardship suffered by many communities.
Recurrent droughts and increasing water insecurity need long-term investments in water, sanitation and hygiene services, water management, and climate-proof infrastructure. Climate change is leading to unpredictable variations in temperature and rainfall patterns, which is expected to increase, both in frequency and intensity.
Durable solutions are required to ensure water security for all, at all times. Read more here about the climate crisis and how UNICEF is protecting, preparing and prioritizing every child for a safe, sustainable and water-secure future.