UNICEF provides life-saving emergency nutrition intervention to drought-affected communities in Kenya
By Rob McBride
Turkana District, Kenya, 15 August 2011 - At the paediatric ward in Lodwar District Hospital, the persistent rasping sound of babies coughing slashes through the stillness in the room. Admitted with a variety of different ailments, the toddlers and infants occupying beds at this unit in the northwest of Kenya all have one thing in common - malnourishment caused by the drought.
Making children more susceptible to childhood illnesses, this hospital has seen a big increase in cases admitted.
“If I compare the situation right now with 2010, we are looking at more than hundred pecent increase in the admission rate” said Marjorie Volege, UNICEF Nutrition Officer.”
Elizabeth, along with her husband and five children, lives on the edge of town in a collection of three simple huts made from twigs and straw. At present all they’ve got to eat is maize and a few beans. The family’s problems began a year earlier, when the small herd of goats that sustained them, perished in the worsening drought.
“Since the livestock died, we have only been making brooms to sell at market,” said Elizabeth. “And whatever money we get, we buy flour for porridge.”
For communities who have traditionally been pastoralist, living off herds that graze the land, the drought has been disastrous. Making simple brooms from dry leaves to sell to local towns, or moving from the countryside to towns themselves in search of food, is the fate for many. For the children, the dislocation brings extra problems.
Not surprisingly, this crisis has quickly gained a reputation as being a ‘children’s famine.’
Compared to the quiet of the children’s ward, the outpatient department was crowded and hectic. Mothers from the surrounding area packed into the cramped space in order to get their children screened for malnutrition, while those families who qualified for food aid lined up for the handouts of therapeutic food that are keeping so many families alive.
Scaling up assistance
In response, UNICEF, with its local NGO and Government Partners, helped by funding from the European Commission’s Humanitarian Aid department (ECHO), has been substantially scaling up feeding programmes since the start of the year. This increased support means more of the most vulnerable children are being reached with lifesaving emergency nutrition intervention.