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Press centre


Statement by Anthony Lake, UNICEF Executive Director, on the crisis in the Horn of Africa

NEW YORK, 19 August 2011

I will not repeat here my earlier remarks on this World Humanitarian Day about the bravery and sacrifices of all aid workers around the world, and those who have lost their lives while saving lives.  I was very moved by it.

The focus here is on the crisis in the Horn of Africa. This is a human disaster becoming a human catastrophe.

The situation is terrible now.  Tens of thousands of people have already died. More than 300,000 children across the region are severely malnourished and at imminent risk of dying.

In Somalia alone, 1.4 million children are affected by this crisis.

It is always the children –the most vulnerable- who suffer the most. This is a children’s crisis.

Their plight demands and deserves our most urgent, bold, and sustained response.

We are responding—and have been since January, and before.

For example, in Somalia, UNICEF has established hundreds of nutrition centres and programmes; is reaching more than a million people with water and sanitation efforts; and is planning measles’ vaccination programmes to reach 2 million children.

Despite these efforts, the crisis will get worse. There will be no major harvests until the beginning of next year, and these are predicted to be below average.  And previous experience shows that child mortality increases during the rainy season due to the spread of diseases.

Already, we estimate that 390,000 children in Somalia are suffering from malnutrition; 4/5 of whom are in the central south zone.  In some areas there, we are seeing historically high rates of severe acute malnutrition, which means that the number of children in that zone facing imminent death is approaching 140,000.

Let me warn that by the next rainfalls in October, we project that all of central and south Somalia will suffer the same extreme food and nutrition crises as is the case in the worst areas today, with twice as many children, almost 300,000, in imminent peril.

So, we are in a fight against time.  We must take from these facts and projections not hopelessness or surrender, but a renewed determination to limit the deaths, to save lives, and to know, some day, that we did all we could. 

We need all the support we can get to do it.

A final note: I have read in the last few days of a decrease of interest among the press and our publics.  This must not happen.  We can’t let a kind of “disaster fatigue” take hold.

I understand that there may be many reasons for it:

First, the number of disasters in the last two years: Haiti, Pakistan, Côte d’Ivoire, Japan, Libya, Yemen…and now the Horn.

Second, there is the number of numbers: the statistics can be mind-numbing.  But remember that the data is sons and daughters. Those statistics are little boys and little girls.

And, third, in all of us there is a natural desire when confronted with images of people suffering to push them away…to categorize them as “victims”…to separate their lives from ours.

That is wrong. These are not simply “victims” to be pitied –they are courageous, resilient human beings fighting, under terrible circumstances, to survive and to help their children live.

They deserve both our admiration and our support in their desperate struggle.




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