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Ethiopia hunger crisis worsens, 136,000 children severely malnourished

© UNICEF/HQ05-0636/Heger
A woman brings her severely malnourished child to be weighed at a UNICEF-supported therapeutic feeding centre in the village of Bissidimo in Ethiopia.

By Rachel Bonham Carter

NEW YORK, 5 May 2005 – Around 136,000 children living in the worst-affected areas of Ethiopia are thought to be severely malnourished as a result of the hunger crisis now unfolding in the country. The United Nations and partners are seeking $320 million for emergency humanitarian aid in a ‘Flash Appeal’.

“You really need an urgent reaction to avoid the children dying – that should be done as quickly as possible,” said Eric Durpaire, UNICEF Programme Officer in the Somali Region of Ethiopia.

Successive droughts over the last five years, particularly in the eastern Somali region of the country, have harmed the fertility of the land. This season’s rains were late in coming and of short duration. Former pastureland is now desert, much livestock has died and the soil yields little return for farmers.

© UNICEF/HQ05-0637/Heger
A woman sits on the muddy ground outside a makeshift dwelling in a camp for people displaced by the drought, near the small village of Hartisheik in Ethiopia.

Dimensions of the crisis

In addition to the children who are presently severely malnourished, a further 360,000 children need supplementary feeding to keep their condition from deteriorating and becoming severe. Current estimates indicate that a total of 3.8 million people are in urgent need of humanitarian aid.

As livelihoods have been undermined by the drought and famine, many have been forced to seek refuge in camps. One such camp in Hartisheik is currently home to around 6,000 people. According to the village elder, 40 children have died this year in the camp and there has been no food assistance there for the past six months. UNICEF does supply daily water to the camp, but food is the most critical problem.

Funding from the UN appeal will also help pay for drugs and medical equipment to reduce the threat of disease. So far, 47 per cent of the $320 million total has been secured.

© UNICEF/HQ05-0638/Heger
A severely malnourished two-year-old Ethiopian girl cries in her mother's arms, the day after her brother died from complications brought on by malnutrition.

Two kinds of response required

UNICEF’s Eric Durpaire said that in addition to the immediate response, longer-term support is also necessary for Ethiopia. “Otherwise, if we don’t improve the general situation, this problem of chronic acute emergency will come back. Each time the rain delays, we will face the same problem.”

Therapeutic feeding centres (TFCs) play a key role in the crisis by helping nurse severely malnourished children back to health. They are popular because the treatment programme works: after a month, children are sent home healthy. But the TFCs in Ethiopia require more support to deal with the current crisis. Unless programmes at TFCs are increased, up to 170,000 severely malnourished children could die this year.

Women bring their children from up to 50 km away to be treated at the TFC located in Bisidimo. In January, 25 children came for treatment; in February, the number was 50; and in March, 120 children came. The Bidismo TFC is currently working at full capacity and might have to turn children away if more arrive.

In a cruel twist of fate, some of those who are struggling to survive drought have seen their belongings washed away by severe floods – the worst to hit the Somali region in 50 years. A total of 105,000 people are affected. In addition to food aid, these families need blankets, plastic sheeting, and water purification materials.




5 May 2005:
UNICEF correspondent Rachel Bonham Carter reports on the Ethiopia Flash Appeal, launched in response to the rising number of children with severe malnutrition.

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