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Eastern and Southern Africa

UNICEF urges sustained aid to prevent 40,000 child deaths in Horn of Africa

© UNICEF/HQ06-0176/Kamber
The Horn of Africa is home to 20 million pastoralists. A camp for people displaced by drought, Kenya.

NEW YORK, USA, 15 May 2006 – Tens of thousands of children are facing the prospect of a slow death by starvation in the Horn of Africa. Despite recent rains, a two-year drought has already killed half the livestock and UNICEF fears that the nomadic pastoralists and their children who roam the vast region could be next.

“There is a population of about 40,000 children under the age of five who are so acutely malnourished at this stage that they need sustained help,” said UNICEF Emergency Communication Officer Gordon Weiss. “Otherwise they face the very real prospect of death in the coming months.”

Launching a multimedia report, 'Child Alert: Crisis in the Horn of Africa', as well as a funding appeal for $80 million, UNICEF seeks to heighten awareness of the drought crisis. UNICEF Deputy Executive Director Rima Salah said today that recent heavy rain had actually deepened the crisis in some areas, while providing limited relief in others.

“This drought has killed up to half the animal population of pastoralists in the Horn of Africa,” said Ms. Salah. “Rain doesn’t bring that back. A pastoralist without a herd is like a farmer without seeds – no longer a pastoralist, just a human being struggling to find food, clean water, shelter and a way to earn money to keep his children alive.”

© UNICEF/HQ06-0146/Kamber
A girl holds her younger sibling at a therapeutic feeding centre in the drought-hit Bakool Region of Somalia.

Millions seriously affected

In the past few years, the Horn of Africa has been drained by increasingly severe drought. In 2000, almost 100,000 people died during a drought in the same region. The vast majority of those affected are pastoralists who roam throughout Djibouti, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Kenya and Somalia in search of grazing land for their herds.

Some 8 million people have been seriously affected and are in need of assistance, including 1.6 million children under five.

The principal points raised by UNICEF’s Child Alert report include the following:

  • Around 40,000 children are so malnourished that they face the prospect of death in the months ahead
  • Rainfall actually worsened the crisis in many areas, killing livestock, bringing malaria and other diseases, washing away young crops and polluting scarce water sources
  • The vast majority of affected children are those of the huge pastoralist community in the Horn
  • The repetitive cycle of crises in the Horn can be broken with consistent access to mobile services that support the pastoralist way of life.
© UNICEF/HQ06-0254/Heavens
A young pastoralist carries a newborn goat as he drives his livestock in search of grazing in Ethiopia’s Somali region.

Adapting to pastoralist ways

“Food shortage has always been a fact of life in this tough region,” said Ms. Salah. “But to help them ride out the regular crises, we need to think like pastoralists, rather than insisting that they adapt to the fixed-location services usually offered to them. If people can live and raise cattle in desert zones in the other parts of the world, they can do so in the Horn. They’ve been doing it for thousands of years.”

UNICEF, other UN agencies and partners in the region have already begun adapting programmes to better suit the pastoralist way of life.  Two examples are mobile health units for young children and the funding and training of teachers who can travel with families as they move around the region searching for water and food for their livestock.

To date, however, less than a third of UNICEF’s humanitarian appeal for the Horn of Africa drought crisis has been funded by donors.




UNICEF correspondent Dan Thomas reports on the crisis facing children in the Horn of Africa. Edited by Rachel Warden.
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UNICEF correspondent Dan Thomas reports from Ethiopia’s Somali region on UNICEF’s work to help save thousands of malnourished children and their parents. Produced by Blue Chevigny.
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