Horn of Africa: Over 7 million children under the age of 5 remain malnourished across Ethiopia, Kenya and Somalia

UNICEF calls for investment in sustainable, resilient systems across the region to protect children and communities from future crises

22 May 2023
A mother holds her young child on her lap
0-month-old Mansuur Osman is held by his mother, Harira Adow, at the stabilization centre of Garissa County Referral Hospital. Baby Mansuur is recovering from severe acute malnutrition caused by the prolonged drought experienced in Garissa.

NAIROBI/JOHANNESBURG, 23 MAY 2023 - Children in the Horn of Africa are living through an unprecedented large-scale crisis of hunger, displacement, water scarcity, and insecurity. More than 7 million children under the age of 5 remain malnourished and in need of urgent nutrition support, and over 1.9 million children are at risk of dying from severe malnutrition.

As the region comes out of one of the worst droughts in 40 years, vulnerable communities have lost cattle, crops, and entire livelihoods over the past three years of failed rains. 

“The crisis in the Horn has been devastating for children,” said Mohamed Fall, UNICEF Regional Director for Eastern and Southern Africa. “Over the past 3 years, communities have been forced to take extreme measures to survive, with millions of children and families leaving their homes out of pure desperation in search of food and water. This crisis has deprived children of the essentials of childhood – having enough to eat, a home, safe water, and going to school.”

While the rains have brought some reprieve, it has also led to floods, as the parched ground is unable to absorb large quantities of water, leading to further displacement, increased risk of disease, livestock loss and crop damage. In Somalia, the rains have caused floods that have damaged homes, farmland and roads, as well as washed away livestock and led to closures of schools and health facilities. Initial estimates indicate that the flash and riverine floods across Somalia have affected at least 460,470 people, of whom nearly 219,000 have been displaced from their homes mainly in flood-prone areas, and 22 killed.

Floods have also caused widespread destruction and displacement in several regions of Ethiopia. The flooding has deepened the vulnerability of populations already highly affected by the drought as the areas most affected by flooding and drought overlap. The floods have also worsened health risks, including cholera. The current cholera outbreak is among the longest outbreaks ever recorded in Ethiopia.

“The rains have brought some relief and hope, but also new threats, and recovery doesn’t happen overnight,” said Fall. “It takes time for crops and herds to grow again, for families to recover from years of hardship. That’s why continued support is still critical.”

Across the region, 23 million people are facing high levels of acute food insecurity in Ethiopia, Kenya and Somalia. The number of severely malnourished children seeking treatment in the first quarter of this year remains much higher than last year, and will likely remain high for quite a while. On top of nutrition needs, extreme weather, insecurity and scarcity have also had devastating consequences for women and children, worsening the risk of gender-based violence (GBV), sexual exploitation and abuse. 

Major outbreaks including cholera, measles, malaria, and other diseases are ongoing across the region, worsened by extreme weather conditions and fragile health systems. Food prices remain high in local markets, burdening children and families. The climate crisis is compounding the severity of the situation, worsening mass displacement, malnutrition, and disease.   

“In 2022, donor support enabled us to provide services for the prevention of malnutrition to over 30 million children and mothers,” said Fall. “This year, further flexible funding will not just help children recover from a crisis of this magnitude, but also go towards developing more resilient, sustainable systems for children in the region, that can withstand future climate impacts and other shocks. With the extreme weather cycles that we see today in the Horn of Africa, the next crisis may hit before children and families have had a chance to recover.”


Notes for editors:

Thanks to early and rapid support by UNICEF, partners, and donors, children and communities in the Horn of Africa received the lifesaving aid they needed to survive.

In 2022 alone, UNICEF and partners reached more than 2 million children and women in the Horn of Africa with essential life-saving health care services; provided services for the prevention of malnutrition to over 30 million children and mothers; treated almost 1.3 million children under 5 for severe acute malnutrition; and provided safe water for almost 4.6 million people, including renovation of boreholes and systems to provide safe water to schools, health centres and communities.

This year, UNICEF is appealing for US$759 million to provide life-saving support to 16.6 million people — including 12.2 million children — in Ethiopia, Kenya, and Somalia, a 39% increase compared to 2022. An additional US$690 million is required to provide climate-sensitive resilience.

Media contacts

Louis Vigneault-Dubois
Chief of Communication
UNICEF Africa Services Unit
Tel: +27 79 495 5938
Ricardo Pires
Communication Specialist
UNICEF Eastern and Southern Africa
Tel: +32 468 468 477

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