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UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador and Oxfam Campaigner Angelique Kidjo visits drought-hit Kenya

Activist asks why Africans are suffering again and again

NAIROBI, 24 April, 2006 - UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador and Oxfam campaigner Angelique Kidjo today witnessed the ravishing and deadly effects of a severe drought that has afflicted thousands of communities in the Horn of Africa.

While visiting communities and families in Wajir town, 780 kilometers north of Kenya’s capital Nairobi, Kidjo, was stunned by what she saw.

“Even though some of the rains have come there is still severe malnutrition and people are really suffering,” she said. “The carcasses of dead cattle lie all over the lands – polluting the water and causing further diseases. I saw a kid 8 years old who weighed the same as a 3 year old. Adults are starving, too. There is malaria, dysentery and measles. UNICEF and Oxfam are doing their best – immunizing kids, providing food, digging boreholes and supporting the local hospitals and communities – but we need to do much more.”

This drought, the worst in a decade, has left approximately 8 million people in five countries in urgent need of assistance. The effects of successive failed rainy seasons pushed the already vulnerable pastoralist herding communities into a deepened cycle of poverty.  In some areas, acute malnutrition rates have hit 30% - this means that three in every ten children are facing serious illness, long term health problems and even death. In other areas, more than 62% of pregnant women are malnourished.

“But this isn’t just about Kenya,” said Kidjo. “This crisis is devastating the whole of the Horn of Africa. Millions of people are still suffering. It would be terrible for people to think that this emergency is over just because there has been a little rain. If anything the rain has spread more disease that threatens not only children but also the livestock, killing off hope of a fast recovery.”

Long term interventions are also needed that will empower communities to protect themselves from drought the next time around.  Mobile communities need mobile solutions – schools that migrate with nomadic pastoralists, health services that provide regular outreach to remote communities and mobile veterinary services that sustain their livelihood. 

“The environment is so depleted – we need to plant more trees that can survive this arid land,” Kidjo said. “There were no roads. How can there be development without roads?  We need to work with these communities, empower them, so that they are no longer living on the brink.”

Kidjo also met with elders, not only from Kenya but also from Somalia. They all wanted the same thing – to be educated, to be treated with dignity and to possess the means to help their families and their communities recover.

Kidjo spoke passionately about the people she met today.

“Behind every emergency there is a human voice and today I heard those voices,” she said. “The men and women that I spoke with, who have lost all their cattle, whose children are on the brink of death and who have no homes, said to me that they were grateful for the food and the aid but they want to be empowered – to learn the knowledge and skills so that they can protect themselves from the next drought.”

“As an African woman and mother I cannot stand by and see this suffering. Not only do we need help from the international community, but we Africans must take action ourselves. Why do we have to wait for others to come and wipe our tears?”

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For further information, please contact:
Sara Cameron, UNICEF Communications: Tel: 254 20 622977 Cell: 254 722 585262
Brenda Kariuki, UNICEF Communications: Tel: 254 20 624555 Cell: 254 722 880067
Anastasia Mutisya, Oxfam Communications: Tel: 254 20 2820220  Cell:0733 792674
Beatrice Karanja, Oxfam Communications: Tel: 254 20 2820136. Cell: 0733 632810

For New York interviews, on 3 May, 2006 please contact:
Susan Lagana, UNICEF Communications: Tel: 212-326-7516




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