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UNICEF seeks US $2.94 million for children affected by drought in Kenya

Over one in five children acutely malnourished in worst affected districts

NAIROBI, 4 May 2005  - UNICEF is calling for urgent emergency relief for thousands of Kenyan children at risk from continuing drought.  The situation is especially critical for an estimated 30,000 children and 10,000 pregnant and nursing mothers who are in immediate need of nutritional support, and 200,000 people who need emergency water supplies. 

 “We must also act quickly to protect the most vulnerable children and women from malaria, to immunize children against measles and polio, and build their immunity to disease with Vitamin A supplements,” said UNICEF Representative Heimo Laakkonen.

“Food, water and immunization are urgently needed but are not enough,” added Laakkonen. “We must also ensure that drought does not force children to drop out of school, or increase the risk of sexual exploitation and abuse.”

In the next four months, working with partners under the Office of the President’s Kenya Food Security Group, UNICEF aims to reach over 200,000 vulnerable children and women with emergency health, water, nutrition, education and protection programmes.

Inadequate rainfall from December to January, during the “short rains” season, is to blame for the continuing crisis. Among the districts under stress are Mandera, Wajir, Turkana, Isiolo and Kajiado.  In Kajiado many water sources have failed and those still in operation are under severe stress. 

Across northern Kenya, the rains improved this year but not enough to ease the drought. In Mandera district, which borders Somalia and Ethiopia, the effects of drought have been compounded by rising violence from cross-border and inter-clan conflicts that has led to displacement of more than 20,000 people since December. More than a quarter of all children in Mandera are acutely malnourished.

“The assessments carried out across northern Kenya showed the same story,” said Laakkonen, “from Wajir in the east to Turkana in the west at least one in five children are acutely malnourished.”

Malnourished children are especially vulnerable to diseases like measles and malaria yet health services in drought-affected areas are unable to respond adequately. Most are poorly staffed and managed and suffer from acute drug shortages. Immunization coverage in North Eastern Province is the worst in the country.

UNICEF will support emergency measles immunization and Vitamin A supplementation for more than 240,000 children and reduce malaria through the provision of insecticide treated nets and malaria treatment for 30,000 pregnant women and children. The risk of polio has risen sharply in Kenya following the spread of the disease in neighbouring Sudan. UNICEF, WHO and Kenya’s Ministry of Health will support polio campaigns in five vulnerable districts, reaching over 200,000 children.

School drop out rates are increasing in drought-affected areas that already have the lowest school enrollment in the country.  Only 10% of girls of primary school age are enrolled in primary schools in North Eastern Province. 

“Kenya cannot afford to lose a single girl from primary school, especially in North Eastern Province,” said Laakkonen.  UNICEF’s emergency response to the drought will ensure that at least 3,500 children in vulnerable communities, especially girls, are able to stay in safe boarding facilities close to primary schools. 

Experience shows that the most vulnerable are often the children who migrate with their families to the outskirts of small towns.  Many have lost their livestock and have no regular means of family support.  Girls and women become especially vulnerable to exploitation, and may be forced into commercial sex work.

“It is a tragic reality that the risk of sexual exploitation is high along busy relief routes,” said UNICEF Representative Heimo Laakkonen. “At the very places where families come to seek help, to collect supplementary food and water supplies, girls and women are vulnerable to abuse.” 

He added that the UNICEF emergency programme included training for relief workers on the prevention of sexual exploitation and helping the most vulnerable families to understand and prevent HIV/AIDS.

UNICEF’s appeal for additional funds builds on emergency support to drought-affected areas of Kenya that began in March 2004.

For more information please contact:

Sara Cameron, UNICEF Kenya + 254-20-622977 scameron@unicef.org

Brenda Kariuki, UNICEF Kenya +254-20-622977 bkariuki@unicef.org




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