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UNICEF makes plea for additional resources to help stave off malnutrition in Ethiopia

© UNICEF/ HQ08-0451/Tegene
A woman spoon-feeds therapeutic milk to her severely malnourished toddler at a feeding centre on the grounds of the Ropi Catholic Church in Sirano District, located in the Oromia Region of Ethiopia.

SIRARO DISRICT, Ethiopia, 2 June 2008 – UNICEF estimates that 126,000 children are in need of urgent therapeutic care for severe malnutrition in Ethiopia, and this number is likely to climb as more harvests fail.

The agency also estimates that 3.4 million Ethiopians will need food aid over the next three months, and that 6 million children are in danger of malnutrition.

A United Nations food summit to address the global food crisis will begin in Rome on Tuesday. The World Food Programme projects that $147 million will be needed to feed children at risk in Ethiopia.

Impact on children
One recent morning, over 300 children and their families formed a wide arch across the compound of the Ropi Catholic Church here in Ethiopia’s Siraro District. They were waiting to receive their rations of life saving therapeutic milk (F-75).

Consecutive failed rainy seasons, steep hikes in food prices and a lack of resources for prevention and response mechanisms are all having a devastating impact on children and families living in the drought-prone districts of Ethiopia.

“We had nothing to eat after the corn crop failed,” said Dureti Degefi, one of the mothers at Ropi. “I am telling you our story because they say you will listen. My stomach is hungry. And my baby is sick. We need help.”

Filling the ‘capacity gap’
Many of the Ethiopian children in need of immediate therapeutic care are receiving treatment at centres like the Ropi facility. But Ropi is already at maximum capacity, and the stream of children and families coming into therapeutic feeding centres across the country continues unabated.

“A child with severe malnutrition is in immediate danger of death,” said UNICEF’s Deputy Representative in Ethiopia, Viviane Van Steirteghem. “For the moment, NGOs are working in 55 woredas [districts], and they are, together with government, providing the capacity to take care of about 40 to 50 per cent – but there is a big capacity gap to take care of the remaining children,”

The farmers of Siraro District are among the more than 3.4 million Ethiopians affected by the drought who are not covered by the national safety net programme, which distributes food aid to 8 million Ethiopians each year. And while the rains have returned to Siraro, community members are still months away from being self-sufficient. They will need immediate assistance to survive until the next harvest.

© UNICEF/ HQ08-0451/Tegene
An Ethiopian girl sits in her mother’s lap inside a tented feeding centre on the grounds of the Ropi Catholic Church. Severely malnourished children are being fed UNICEF-supplied therapeutic milk.
Additional therapeutic food needed
Outside of the Ropi compound, outpatient treatment for severe acute undernutrition is under way. Malnourished children come with their parents to have their nutritional status checked and to receive a week’s ration of the ready-to-use therapeutic food, Plumpy’nut.

The use of therapeutic milk formulas and Plumpy’nut is preventing the deaths of thousands of children across Ethiopia, but resources are dwindling rapidly. Close to 2,000 additional metric tonnes of Plumpy’nut will be needed over the next three months.

“Five years ago, when we were facing a similar drought and nutrition emergency, we had very little capacity on the ground to respond, and we lost many children,” said UNICEF Representative in Ethiopia Björn Ljungqvist. “Today, thanks to the commitment and actions to ensure that children should not die of preventable causes, led by the Ethiopian Ministry of Health and supported by the World Food Programme and UNICEF, we have the capacity to respond and can save the lives of thousands of children. To do this, however, we need resources.”

Initial response is encouraging
Since UNICEF and others called the world’s attention to the emergency situation in Ethiopia, donors have begun responding. The European Commission’s Humanitarian Aid Department has conributed $1.8 million, and so far $5 million has come from the Humanitarian Response Fund, a pooled emergency system set up by donors in Ethiopia. In addition, the UN’s Central Emergency Response Fund is providing funds for the purchase of supplementary corn Soya blend.

This initial response is encouraging, but much more is needed in order to avert a wider disaster. The current estimate of the funds required to respond to the emergency needs of children in Ethiopia stands at $50 million.

If the situation continues to deteriorate, however, that figure could grow.




May 2008:
UNICEF correspondent Anwulika Okafor reports on efforts to bring aid to severely malnourished children in Ethiopia.
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UNICEF correspondent Anwulika Okafor reports on victims of the Ethiopian food crisis who share their stories.
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