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Kenya, 3 June 2011: Impact of the drought in the Horn of Africa

NAIROBI, 3 June 2011 – More than 1.8 million children under the age of five are now in need of humanitarian assistance in the Horn of Africa. The latest drought, in combination with spiraling fuel and food prices, has further deteriorated the nutritional status of children.

“Beyond our emergency response, we have to strengthen children’s and their families’ resilience to help them cope better with the recurrent drought situations in the region,” said UNICEF Regional Director for Eastern and Southern Africa, Elhadj As Sy. “In addition to short term food, water and nutritional support there is a need for more effective policy, programmatic and governance actions to bolster populations within these difficult livelihood environments. The effects of climate change are increasingly felt in the region, and it is particularly the children who bear the brunt.”

The most affected areas of this latest drought are in central and southern Somalia, southern and south-eastern Ethiopia, Djibouti, northern and eastern Kenya as well as parts of Uganda. The drought in the Horn has been attributed to the effects of the “La Niña” atmospheric phenomenon, the strongest in a century, which already reduced the level of precipitation during the last rainy season at the end of 2010.

Although late rains in May have brought temporary relief to some of these areas by improving access to water and pasture, the deeper impact on household income, food security and child nutrition and health remains serious.  Recovery in these areas will require a continuation of extended rains for environmental rehabilitation, well-targeted food and non-food relief assistance and continued child and maternal health outreach services. 

The current total number of people in need of humanitarian assistance in southern and south-eastern Ethiopia stands at 3.2 million. In both Somalia and north-eastern Kenya some 2.4 million people are facing an acute food and livelihood crisis. Another 670,000 people are affected in northern Uganda and 120,000 in Djibouti, bringing the total number of people in these countries who need help in terms of nutrition, health and water to 8.8 million.

The crisis led to a sharp increase in the number of malnourished children. The highest percentage can be found in southern Somalia and northern Kenya, where one in four children is acutely malnourished. This is far above the emergency level of 15 percent as defined by the World Health Organization (WHO). These children are facing a significantly higher risk of dying, and when they survive, their physical and social development will be hampered.

In central and south Somalia, 38 percent of children already dropped out of school as a consequence of the drought, which is further exacerbated by the ongoing conflict. Every month, more than 10,000 refugees from Somalia arrive in the Dadaab camp across the border in Kenya, among them exceptionally high numbers of severely malnourished children.

Throughout northern Kenya, outside of the Dadaab and Kakuma camps, some 33,000 children below five years of age are currently affected by severe acute malnutrition. This figure is likely to increase further. Kenya’s President Mwai Kibaki has declared the drought a national disaster.

“Pastoralist populations and their livestock are particularly affected by such climate shocks and the lack of security. This latest drought highlights the continuing need for greater convergence in the efforts of government, supported by the UN, NGOs and community based organizations to improve the information on the situation of children in pastoralist areas so that we can sharpen our support for these groups,” said Elhadj As Sy. It is estimated that some 15 percent of the total population of 152 million people in the Horn of Africa live in a nomadic or pastoralist household.

UNICEF in action

In response to the drought and high food prices, UNICEF has increased its humanitarian assistance with a focus on nutrition, water supply and sanitation as well as health.

In Somalia, about one million people are benefiting from the rehabilitation, operation and maintenance of boreholes and water systems, the chlorination of wells and the distribution of water purification tablets, soaps and jerry cans. UNICEF and partners are providing basic health care services to 885,000 people in drought and conflict affected Central South Somalia. In Mogadishu, a campaign conducted in March reached a total of 75,000 children under-five with measles vaccination. By end of March, over 70,000 severely and moderately malnourished children were admitted to therapeutic and supplementary feeding programmes.

UNICEF and partners are also scaling up curative and preventive nutrition services in all the affected 18 districts in Kenya. The number of severely malnourished children being admitted for treatment has increased from a monthly average of 3,000 in January to 4,700 in April, increasing the total number of children currently being treated to 12,000.

In the most affected areas in Ethiopia, UNICEF distributed ready-to-use therapeutic food for the treatment of almost 34,000 severely malnourished children through the country’s Health Extension Programme. It is expected that during the coming three months on average some additional 40,000 severely malnourished children will be admitted per month. More than 280,000 people in the drought-affected areas have gained better access to clean drinking water through UNICEF supported water trucking, rehabilitation of water schemes and the distribution of water treatment chemicals and water storage containers.

All three countries have made important efforts to scale up the management of acute malnutrition, which has been made widely available through existing health services.

However, the necessary further strengthening of the emergency operation in the short term and the building of resilience and capacity among the population and health staff in the medium term are hampered by insufficient funding. UNICEF has received 40 percent of the funds needed for the emergency relief operations in Ethiopia and Kenya, and 55 percent of the funds needed for the operation in Somalia. Due to the resource constraints, however, food security in the affected areas in Kenya may decrease much more rapidly than in previous years.

UNICEF is on the ground in over 150 countries and territories to help children survive and thrive, from early childhood through adolescence. The world’s largest provider of vaccines for developing countries, UNICEF supports child health and nutrition, good water and sanitation, quality basic education for all boys and girls, and the protection of children from violence, exploitation, and AIDS. UNICEF is funded entirely by the voluntary contributions of individuals, businesses, foundations and governments. For more information about UNICEF and its work visit:

For more information, please contact:

Robert McCarthy, Regional Chief Emergencies, UNICEF Eastern and Southern Africa, Nairobi +254 20 762 2176,

Michael Klaus, Regional Chief Communication, UNICEF Eastern and Southern Africa, Nairobi, + 254 20 762 2214,



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