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News note

UNICEF concerned about the worsening impact on children of the humanitarian situation in the Horn of Africa

NAIROBI, 14 October 2009 – UNICEF is deeply concerned about the increasing number of children affected by drought and hunger in the Horn of Africa. According to latest UNICEF estimates, almost five million children under the age of five are now suffering from the consequences of chronic food insecurity caused by prolonged drought and the impact of the continuing conflict in Somalia, which affects wider parts of the region. Since May 2009, the number of young children in need of emergency assistance in the Horn has increased by nearly one million.

According to UN data, some 24 million people in Djibouti, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Kenya, Somalia and parts of Uganda now need food aid and other humanitarian assistance, up from 20 million earlier this year. UNICEF estimates that for the whole of 2009 some 500,000 children under five will suffer from life-threatening severe acute malnutrition.

The current drought has been caused by low and erratic rainfalls across the region with less than 50 per cent of normal precipitation. For countries such as Kenya it is the fourth consecutive failed rainy season in a row. The dry spell already led to enormous losses in livestock, increases in food prices and severe water shortages.

The El Niño weather pattern during the upcoming rainy season is likely to bring flooding in parts of the region which may cause additional crop failures and a further increase of water borne diseases and acute malnutrition. During the past months, Ethiopia, Kenya and Somalia already registered more than 65,000 cases of cholera or acute watery diarrhoea, exceeding figures of the previous two years. El Niño flooding may also disrupt hard pressed education services in a region where already millions of children are out of school due to chronic emergency situations.

“We are working with governments, UN and NGO partners to strengthen the capacities on the ground for expanded humanitarian operations, in case El Niño hits the Horn of Africa hard.  However, our efforts are increasingly being stretched, because our emergency programmes are severely underfunded," said Elhadj As Sy, UNICEF Regional Director for Eastern and Southern Africa.

As of end September 2009, UNICEF had only received a third (35 per cent) of the funds needed for its emergency operations in the six countries. The funding levels range from 25 per cent in Uganda to 43 per cent in Ethiopia. UNICEF has appealed for a total of $189 million. Despite the growing needs, the funding level remains significantly lower than in previous years.

“We appeal to the donor community to urgently increase their support and to help us strengthen the capacity of governments and humanitarian actors in the Horn to assist children and families in need,” said Mr. Sy.

With support from UNICEF, Ethiopia has been successful in increasing its capacity to support severely malnourished children at community level. The number of sites providing treatment has increased from less than 500 in 2007 to over 3,200. As part of the programme, UNICEF pre-positioned ready-to-use therapeutic foods and encouraged local production of the products needed to combat malnutrition. 

In Uganda, nearly 5,000 children have been treated for severe acute malnutrition to date and in Somalia, UNICEF and its partners are providing more than 900,000 people with sustainable access to safe drinking water. In Kenya, UNICEF has been supporting cholera preparedness and response at district level.

“These examples show that much can be achieved even under the most difficult circumstances. In order to achieve more sustainable results, however, we have to look further ahead and address the root causes of the recurrent crises in the Horn of Africa,” said Mr. Sy.  “We are talking about a region where up to 50 per cent of under-5-year-olds are chronically malnourished and one in eight children die before reaching their fifth birthday.  If we don’t manage to reduce the severe vulnerability of children and their families we will see situations like the one we have now occurring over and over again.”

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:
Robert McCarthy, Regional Advisor Emergencies
Tel + (254-20) 7622176

Peter Hailey, Nutrition Specialist,
Tel + (254-20) 7622595

Michael Klaus, Regional Chief of Communication
Tel + (254-20)7622214

Patrick McCormick, UNICEF New York,
Tel + 1 212 326 7426,
E-mail: pmccormick@unicef.org




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