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UNICEF Executive Director visits Chad to highlight looming crisis in Sahel

VIDEO: UNICEF correspondent Chris Niles reports on Executive Director Anthony Lake's visit to Chad highlighting the looming nutrition crisis in the Sahel. The emergency threatens over 1 million children with deadly malnutrition.  Watch in RealPlayer


By Chris Niles

NEW YORK, USA, 4 April 2012 – UNICEF Executive Director Anthony Lake has called for an urgent escalation in humanitarian efforts in the Sahel region of Africa to prevent the deaths of more than 1 million children.

Mr. Lake is visiting western Chad to spearhead a global UNICEF campaign to raise $120 million to treat and feed the region’s children, who are at risk of death from severe acute malnutrition.

“This is a region always on the verge of a crisis. Families and children have been weakened from the drought in 2010 and 2005. Now there is growing insecurity in a number of countries with hundreds and thousands of people displaced, rising food prices, and a bad harvest,” he said.

Preparations underway

By contributing to mass displacement and weakening children’s immune systems, the coming nutrition crisis brings with it threats from polio, measles, meningitis and cholera – other major killers of children.

UNICEF is working with partners to prepare, setting up hundreds of health centres across the eight countries of the Sahel region. Tens of thousands of children have already been treated for severe acute malnutrition.

VIDEO: Watch the UNICEF public service announcement urging donors to assist crisis-affected children in the Sahel region of Africa.  Watch in RealPlayer


“The people of the Sahel are on the edge of a perfect storm, with one million children at risk,” Mr. Lake said.

In Chad, over 6 million people have been affected by the crisis; 3.5 million of them are under 18 years old. An estimated 127,300 children under age 5 are already suffering from severe acute malnutrition.

The country also has the highest numbers of polio cases in Africa and is dealing with a meningitis outbreak, diseases that could complicate children’s needs as the nutrition crisis hits.

With the Ministry of Public Health, UNICEF has set up over 250 nutrition rehabilitation centres in Chad, and will double that number in the next two months.

Building resilience for the future

UNICEF also plans to build health, sanitation and protection systems throughout the Sahel so that the people of the region can meet future challenges with more resilience.

“This is not just about saving lives today. It’s about preventing new emergencies tomorrow with the right kind of nutrition at the right time, especially for children under 3, and it’s about boosting robust health systems so that we can prevent another tragic emergency and children do not have to end up in nutrition centres,” Mr. Lake said.



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