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UNICEF is raising funds to provide life-saving assistance to over 1 million at-risk children in the Sahel

By Chris Niles

NEW YORK, USA, 2 April 2012 – As the hunger season begins in the Sahel region of Africa, UNICEF is launching a massive fund-raising campaign to help the more than 1 million children in danger of dying from 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 campaign coincides with the visit of UNICEF Executive Director Anthony Lake to Chad, one of eight countries in the Sahel facing the triple shock of drought, high food prices and instability.

“What we want to do is to draw the world’s attention to the plight of the children in the Sahel. We want to make sure that people are aware of what’s happening before it’s too late,” said UNICEF Director of Emergency Programmes Louis-Georges Arsenault.

Millions affected

Over 15 million people in Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Chad, Mali, Mauritania, Niger, Nigeria and Senegal are directly affected by the crisis. And although the people of the Sahel are resilient, their position has been weakened by successive emergencies. The region suffered droughts in 2005 and 2010, and many families were forced to sell their livestock, pull children out of school, borrow money and get by with less food.

UNICEF estimates that it needs $120 million to feed the 1 million children under age 5 who will need lifesaving treatment for severe acute malnutrition. Only 32 per cent of that need has been met so far.

© UNICEF Chad/2012/Tidey
A woman holds her malnourished son in Chad. UNICEF is racing to assist more than 1 million children facing severe acute malnutrition in the Sahel region.

“We want to make sure that the Sahel crisis is on the map as we need more resources to really scale up our response before it becomes too late and too many lives are lost,” said Mr. Arsenault.

UNICEF has been preparing for the last seven months to meet the extreme needs in the Sahel, buying and shipping food and nutrition supplies and hiring extra staff. It’s a huge endeavour, involving eight national governments, many United Nations partners and NGOs.

“If we are not able to mount the appropriate response, it could reach up to 1.4 million severely malnourished children, so we’re talking about a lot of lives which are at stake here,” Mr. Arsenault said.

Racing to meet children’s needs

Adding to the crisis is the rapidly unfolding insecurity in Mali, where an internal rebellion has displaced more than 200,000 people. UNICEF is also working to meet the needs of those who’ve been forced from their homes.

As UNICEF races to meet immediate needs, it is also preparing to strengthen the long-term resilience of the children of the Sahel.

“We are talking about a severe nutrition crisis for children but also a crisis that requires a more integrated approach, because without access to water and sanitation and immunization it’s going to be very difficult to have the impact that’s required,” Mr. Arsenault said.




2 April 2012: UNICEF Director of Emergency Programmes Louis-Georges Arsenault discusses the urgent needs of children in the Sahel region of Africa. 
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