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Food and nutrition insecurity deepens in the Horn of Africa as heavy rains are predicted

© UNICEF/NYHQ2009-0644/Kamber
A nomadic boy carries a water container towards his camels at a watering hole on the outskirts of the town of Adado, in the central region of Galguduud in Somalia. Most watering holes in the region have dried up due to drought or have become contaminated.

By Kun Li

ISIOLO, Kenya, 16 October 2009 – Underneath the blazing sun, pastoralists Ekwam Joseph, 20, and his younger brother, Ekai Francis, 11, herd their cattle through a land that is covered with anything but green pasture.

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“I had 161 cows and bulls, 155 of them have died,” said Ekwam. “With only six remaining, I don’t know what to do – to die or to move somewhere else.”

Impact of drought

With the failure of four consecutive rainy seasons, the impact of drought, hunger and disease is not only felt in Kenya, but throughout the Horn of Africa. Across the region, some 24 million people in Djibouti, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Kenya, Somalia and parts of Uganda are now in need of humanitarian aid, up from 20 million earlier this year. Among them nearly five million are children under five years of age.

“In times of crises like this, numbers and figures will never tell us the true impact these crises have on the most vulnerable children and families,” said UNICEF Regional Director for Eastern and Southern Africa Elhadj As Sy. “We are talking about a region where up to 50 per cent of children under five are chronically malnourished and one in eight children die before reaching their fifth birthday. If we don’t manage to reduce the severe vulnerability of children and their families we will see situations like this occurring over and over again.”

The short-term situation is urgent. Nearly 18.5 million people are in need of immediate emergency assistance and more are dependent on food aid. An estimated 250,000 cases of acute malnutrition in the region will require treatment before the end of the year.

It is a situation that demands more than an increase in funding, says UNICEF’s Regional Emergency Adviser, Robert McCarthy.

“What UNICEF does not want to do is just to ring the bell once again and say ‘we have a major emergency in the Horn of Africa and we need this much money.’ Of course we have to do that, but it has to be part of a much more forthright emphasis on the need to look for more durable solutions, for more meaningful approaches that are going to help us toward the longer term,” Mr. McCarthy said.

© UNICEF Kenya/2009/Li
Pastoralists Ekwam Joseph, 20, and his younger brother, Ekai Francis, 11, herd their cattle in search of pasture in eastern Kenya. The family faces extreme hardship because most of their herd has died due to on-going drought in the region.

Cholera outbreak

Nuria, age five, and Sophia, three, are both suffering from diarrhoea. Their village of Basa in Eastern Kenya resides on a very arid land, where water has to be brought in by relief trucks once a week. Just recently, five have died in this pastoralist community and more than 80 children have been treated for diarrhoea and vomiting.

It was later confirmed that the village is having a cholera outbreak.

“Our school is closed because of shortage of water, food, and toilets. Our children are sick.” said a 40-year old resident of Basa named Fatuma. “Women are also suffering. They wake up at four in the morning and come back at six when the sun has set, finding their children thirsty and hungry.”

Funding shortages

Despite increasing humanitarian needs in the Horn of Africa, aid agencies like UNICEF are faced with funding shortages. By the end of September, UNICEF had only received a third of the 189 million US dollars the agency appealed for its emergency operations in the six countries.

UNICEF and its partners are taking steps to strengthen emergency response by linking nutrition, hygiene and micronutrient programming. Contingency planning for expected El Niño flooding, cholera outbreaks, and worsening HINI pandemic incidences are also underway.

“We appeal to the donor community to urgently increase their support and to help us strengthen the capacity of governments and humanitarian actors in the Horn to assist children and families in need,” said UNICEF’s Elhadj As Sy. “It is also urgent that we draw lessons from the past – preparedness and proactive response are key. If we wait until the emergency hits – of course we can always respond – but the response may not be as adequate as if it was prepared well in advance.”




9 October 2009:
UNICEF correspondent Kun Li reports on the worsening drought in eastern Kenya. 
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UNICEF Regional Emergency Advisor for Eastern and Southern Africa Robert McCarthy calls for 'durable solutions' to ongoing food insecurity.
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