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Situation worsens for children as relief measures falter in Horn crisis

NAIROBI, 5 September 2008 - Children, already casualties of the complex drought, food price and conflict crisis unfolding in the Horn of Africa, are suffering severe effects of the lack of food, water and medical care.

Three million children in the arid, marginalized region are at risk of death, disease or the long-term consequences of malnutrition. They comprise a large proportion of the more than 14 million people critically affected and the numbers are on an alarming upward trajectory.

Some experts are predicting that millions more children and families could be engulfed across the Horn if steps are not taken immediately to address the crisis.  And responses to the crisis remain discouraging, despite the seriousness of the situation.

“Strong national leadership is needed at this critical juncture, and more international funding must be quickly mobilized. The risks to children and their families are immense and we are running out of time to reverse them,” said Per Engebak, UNICEF’s Regional Director for East and Southern Africa.” 

The drought comes on top of the worst conflict seen for many years in the troubled region, particularly in much of Central and Southern Somalia and in parts of Somali Region of Ethiopia. The weak or largely failed governance systems are unable to respond to the needs of the population and in some cases actually impede relief measures. Aid workers, for instance, find themselves obstructed by officials in some parts of the Horn and in many cases they are deliberately targeted by armed groups.

“Security is a major complication in responding to the needs of affected people in many parts of the Horn at this time,” continued Mr. Engebak, underlining the difficulties of lack of access, along with the soaring cost of food grains and cereals worldwide.

Foodstuff prices have risen by as much as 200 per cent over the past eight months in some of the worst drought affected countries, putting the option of purchasing grains out of the reach of many families. The high prices are also making it difficult for relief organizations to purchase the amounts of grains and cereals needed to respond to the emergency. The rising price of fuel (up between 300 and 1,000 per cent in Somalia for example) threatens food and water deliveries, even when people are in secure enough situations to be reached.

 “If concerted actions and funding are not forthcoming this crisis could have irreversible effects on the people of the Horn and push any prospect of progress towards the MDGs far beyond reach of their countries,” Engebak concluded.
In Ethiopia, new estimates are soon expected and fears are the numbers will surge from the 4.6 million. There are now 75,000 children in Ethiopia in need of therapeutic feeding.

Supplies of Plumpy Nut, the very effective nutritional supplement for managing acute malnutrition in children, manufactured in Ethiopia are not enough to meet the needs. UNICEF is helping procure supplies internationally, but additional funds are required until the end of the year for those imports. 

In Somalia the number of people needing emergency assistance has spiraled by 77 per cent since January, and now totals 3.2 million people. Insecurity in the port city of Mogadishu, through which 80 per cent of all supplies for the country pass, is vastly complicating relief measures.

The UN estimates it needs approximately $10 million to ensure appropriate security in Somalia. In October 2008, UNICEF will carry out a child health campaign, with the aim of reaching 1.5 million children under the age of five with measles vaccinations, vitamin A supplements and other health measures. The goal is to stem the rising child death toll in the deteriorating situation.

Spikes in acute malnutrition among children are being seen in parts of Eritrea and in Uganda’s Karamoja region where 7,500 children are severely malnourished and 35,000 are moderately so. In some districts of Uganda, acute malnutrition rates are above 15 per cent, which WHO deems a crisis threshold. Over 700,000 people are estimated to lack sufficient food in Karamoja.

In Kenya, an estimated 1.34 million are affected by food insecurity, about 840,000 of those in the arid and semi-arid pastoralist areas and the others displaced during the violent political crisis early in the year. Over 95,000 children under the age of five and pregnant and breastfeeding women in the drought-ravaged areas of northern and eastern Kenya are malnourished, with 10,000 of that number severely affected. Reports of children dropping out of school and girls entering prostitution to earn money for their families are increasing.

UNICEF is on the ground in over 150 countries and territories to help children survive and thrive, from early childhood through adolescence.  The world’s largest provider of vaccines for developing countries, UNICEF supports child health and nutrition, good water and sanitation, quality basic education for all boys and girls, and the protection of children from violence, exploitation, and AIDS.  UNICEF is funded entirely by the voluntary contributions of individuals, businesses, foundations and governments.

For more information, please contact:

Patricia Lone, Regional Communication Chief, UNICEF ESARO, mobile phone+ 254 722 520 595, Tel + 254 20 762 2214, Email plone@unicef.org,
Robert McCarthy, Regional Emergency Advisor, UNICEF ESARO, mobile phone +254 722 701 504, Tel + 254 20 762 2176, Email rmccarthy@unicef.org
Patrick McCormick, UNICEF New York, Tel:  +2 12 326 7452, pmccormick@unicef.org




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