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Eastern and Southern Africa

With the Horn of Africa on the brink of famine, need for drought relief grows

© UNICEF/HQ06-0024/Cameron
Abdi Nasser Mohammed, 10, sits on the parched ground with his year-old brother, Imram, outside Garissa Town in Kenya. Some 200 families displaced by the drought are sheltering in the area.

By Rachel Bonham Carter

NEW YORK USA, 6 April 2006 –  The need for humanitarian aid is growing in parts of the Horn of Africa where more than 15 million people – including 2.7 million children under the age of five – are affected by the worst drought to hit the region in decades. Aid will be even more vital to save children’s lives if the rains fail again this month in the region, which includes Djibouti, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Kenya and Somalia.

‘A real risk of famine’

The drought has escalated because rains have failed for two years, killing off crops and grazing lands, and drying up fresh water supplies. The people most affected by the poor rains are pastoralists, who move throughout the region while tending to livestock, their primary source of income.

© UNICEF/HQ05-0638/Heger
A severely malnourished girl, Zara Mahmoud, 2, cries in her mother's arms in a camp for people displaced by the drought, near the village of Hartisheik in Ethiopia. Zara's brother died the previous day.

In Somalia, where 25 per cent of the population is affected by the drought, UNICEF Representative Christian Balslev-Oelsen says the situation does not seem likely to improve with the upcoming and longed-for rainy season.

“This April we should have rain again but the forecast is saying it will be below the average,” he notes. “That means there will be no means of surviving normally in Somalia. Children are completely dependent on what we can provide: food, water, health, nutrition.”

UNICEF’s Deputy Director for Emergency Operations, Afshan Khan, agrees that below-average spring rains could significantly escalate current problems: “I think if the rains fail we’re probably looking at some parts of the Horn facing a real risk of famine. That means 10,000 to 12,000 people dying every month. At least half of them will be children under 18.”

© UNICEF/HQ06-0029/Bannon
A shepherd in Somalia seeks water for his goat at a large catchment area in the southern Bakol Region. Many livestock are dying, and the nearest water point is 25 km away.

Funding is essential

UNICEF’s relief work in the Horn of Africa focuses on three main areas, according to Ms. Khan.

“The first is to ensure water and sanitation is available,” she says. “We’re rehabilitating boreholes and providing some trucking of water. We’re providing water purification because a lot of water sources have been contaminated by dead animals.

“Secondly, nutrition. We’re now looking at malnutrition rates of over 30 per cent and there’s a real risk an increasing number of children will die. The World Food Programme is supporting supplementary feeding, and UNICEF will help provide for those children who are extremely malnourished.

“Thirdly, we must prevent the spread of disease. When children are malnourished they are at risk of dying from diseases which under normal circumstances would not kill them – measles and cholera. A measles campaign is being launched across the Horn with the support of the World Health Organization and non-governmental partners. It will also provide vitamin A supplements to boost children’s immunity.”

Continued funding for these efforts will be essential to ensure that UNICEF and its partners – including various UN agencies, non-governmental and international organizations – can step up their emergency programmes in the Horn of Africa to meet the needs of people in one of the most vulnerable corners of the world.




5 April 2006:
The Deputy Director of UNICEF’s Office of Emergency Operations, Afshan Khan, describes UNICEF’s concerns for children affected by the drought in the Horn of Africa.

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