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Deputy Executive Director calls for immediate action on malnutrition in Ethiopia

© UNICEF Ethiopia/2008/Getachew
UNICEF Deputy Executive Director Hilde Johnson speaks with the mother of two severely malnourished children at a UNICEF-supported centre in Kembata Tembaro, near Ethiopia's Gurage Zone.

By Indrias Getachew

GURAGE ZONE, Ethiopia, 25 June 2008 – Mubarek weighed barely 3.5 kg when he arrived at the Kuno Alimena Health Post in Ethiopia's drought-affected Gurage Zone. His weight would be average for a newborn baby, but as a toddler, he weighs approximately one-third of what he should. His diagnosis is severe acute malnutrition.

Still, Mubarek was lucky; his mother brought him to the weekly UNICEF-supported therapeutic feeding programme that has been set up to save the lives of severely malnourished children. He did not have medical complications that would require clinical treatment and was able to begin home-based care, receiving weekly rations of ready-to-use therapeutic foods.

But Mubarek's twin brother was not so fortunate. He died even before his mother could get help.

International appeal for help

Children are the most vulnerable to nutritional deficits and the first to succumb when there is not enough food at home. Those with severe acute malnutrition have a 25 to 50 per cent chance of dying if they don’t receive proper treatment.

UNICEF Deputy Executive Director Hilde F. Johnson visited Guraghe Zone during her recent trip to drought-affected areas of southern Ethiopia. She concluded her trip by calling for immediate help to feed malnourished children and their families

“The situation in the hardest hit areas is extremely serious,” said Ms. Johnson. “Children are now at risk of dying in numbers in several areas if help is not provided urgently. The government and partners are doing their utmost to help, but needs are not being met with adequate speed. More resources need to be provided.”

A mother and her severely malnourished child at a UNICEF-supported therapeutic feeding centre in Kembata Tembaro, one of the areas hardest hit areas by drought and the food crisis in Ethiopia.

Swift response needed

Therapeutic feeding alone will not be enough to address the nutritional needs of children affected by the drought. If Mubarek's mother does not have enough food to feed him when he returns home, chances are that he will slip back into malnutrition.

For now, the health post has enough supplies to feed Mubarek. However, UNICEF could face a shortage of supplies to meet the needs of severely malnourished children in drought-affected areas.

UNICEF is the main provider of therapeutic feeding products in Ethiopia. The agency and its partners – including other UN agencies and non-governmental organizations – are working closely with the Government of Ethiopia to respond swiftly and effectively to the crisis.

‘There is no food’

The Government of Ethiopia estimates that 75,000 children under the age of five in 124 drought-affected districts are severely malnourished, and that 4.6 million people are in immediate need of humanitarian aid.

UNICEF needs $28 million in funding to meet the immediate needs of children and women throughout the affected areas and $21.3 million for mitigation and preparedness in broader vulnerable areas of the country.

“We talked to mothers and fathers, grandmothers and grandfathers and all actors in the field,” said Ms. Johnson. “This picture was confirmed by all of them and a clear message was conveyed: There is no food. The assistance needs to be taken to scale and it has to happen urgently.”




19 June 2008:
UNICEF correspondent Chris Niles reports on UNICEF Deputy Executive Director Hilde Johnson’s trip to drought-ravaged Ethiopia.
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