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Press release

Kenya: Worst drought in years threatens children

UNICEF Re-Issues Emergency Appeal for US$4 million

NAIROBI, 19 December 2005 - UNICEF called urgent attention today to thousands of children in northern Kenya who face malnutrition due to deepening drought.  The recent short rain season has been extremely poor in the northern and eastern pastoral districts. At a time of year when livestock should be healthy and feeding on new grass, carcasses are lying dead along the roadside.  Many Government, UN and NGO experts meeting in Nairobi last week described the drought as the worst in years.

UNICEF Kenya Representative Heimo Laakkonen said in a statement today that rates of child malnutrition in districts like Wajir and Mandera may increase from the already alarming levels of almost 30 percent reported in assessments backed by the agency in October.  “The dry weather is predicted to continue,” said Laakkonen.  “Given that situation can only get worse, it is imperative that all partners and the government act swiftly to protect the most vulnerable children and women.”  The World Food Programme has already more than doubled its estimate of the number of people needing food aid to about 2.5 million. It is estimated that about 560,000 people in 7 districts will require emergency supplies of water.

Malnourished children are especially vulnerable to diseases like malaria, pneumonia and diarrhoea. Fortunately, over 80% of children in the worst affected areas received Vitamin A supplements during the recent polio campaign and this will help boost their immunity to disease -- but with critical water shortages affecting over half a million people, the low-functioning of health services in the area and significant drop out from schools reported in some districts, conditions for children are extremely worrying. The risk of conflict is also very high. Past conflicts over access to water, pasture and livestock have erupted into brutal massacres in which children have not been spared.

UNICEF has re-issued its October appeal which calls for US$4 million to assist more than 20,000 children estimated to be malnourished or at serious risk of malnutrition. The appeal also included programmes that aimed to keep children in school, ensure safe water supplies and provide emergency health care and protection.

“Reaching children is extremely challenging,” said Laakkonen, “because populations are widely scattered across the arid and semi-arid-districts.”  In response to the crisis, UNICEF supported a massive screening campaign conducted by the Government and the NGO Merlin, aimed at identifying malnourished children in 4 divisions of Wajir District. Of the 6,400 children screened, 1,792 were identified as malnourished and immediately supplied with supplementary food. The NGO Action Against Hunger is providing similar emergency support to malnourished children and pregnant and lactating mothers in 3 divisions in Mandera District.

Nearly $200,000 worth of emergency nutrition supplies are in the pipeline for drought affected districts. UNICEF is working closely with the government and partners to ensure that food aid provided by the World Food Programme reaches households with the most vulnerable children. The United Kingdom government (DfID) and the Swedish government (Sida) have already indicated support for the UNICEF program. The Government of Kenya is providing additional emergency food supplies and for allocated extra funds for emergency water.
“UNICEF is helping the government to coordinate efforts in the non-food sector,” said Laakkonen, “but all of us share a sense of foreboding. The drought is very serious and is going to have a tragic impact on people’s lives.  We must do all we can to protect children who are least able to protect themselves.”

For further information:

Sara Cameron, UNICEF Kenya, Chief Communication Partnerships Participation,
+254 (0)722585262
or +254 (0)20 622977

Gordon Weiss, UNICEF New York,
+1 (212) 326 7426
or +1 (917) 498 4083





12 January 2006:
UNICEF correspondent Jane O’Brien reports on Kenya’s starving children.

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