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Statement by UNICEF Executive Director Anthony Lake on the unfolding crisis for children in the Sahel

NEW YORK, 22 December 2011 – “An estimated one million young children in the Sahel region of West and Central Africa are in danger of becoming severely malnourished in 2012 if the global community does not take action.

“Eight countries across the Sahelian belt are part of this crisis for children. Inadequate rain and poor harvests mean that the ‘lean season’ – when food from the last harvest runs out – could begin in some countries as early as March, rather than as usual in June.

“Any reduction in the quantity and nutritional quality of a family’s food has an impact on children, especially the youngest. Significant numbers of children in the Sahel already suffer from malnutrition, making them all the more vulnerable. And we are already seeing pockets of severe malnutrition above the emergency threshold.

“Specially developed ready-to-use therapeutic foods are the best way to treat severe acute malnutrition among children under five so they have a chance to survive and recover. The biggest challenge we face now is getting sufficient amounts of these critical foods to children as the need increases in the coming months.

“To prevent a wide-scale emergency in the Sahel, UNICEF and our partners in this effort must begin at once to fill the pipeline with life-sustaining supplies to the region before it is too late.

“In 2010, donor commitment, public generosity and the hard work of humanitarian workers averted a major tragedy in the Sahel. Together we can do it again.  But we must start now, because the region is vast, the challenge is great and the window is closing.

“The children at risk today in the Sahel are not mere statistics by which we may measure the magnitude of a potential humanitarian disaster. They are individual girls and boys, and each has the right to survive, to thrive and to contribute to their societies. We must not fail them.” 


UNICEF works in 190 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 about UNICEF and its work visit: www.unicef.org

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For further information, please contact:
Peter Smerdon, UNICEF/New York, Mobile
Tel + 1 917 213 5188,

Martin Dawes, UNICEF Regional Office for West and Central Africa,
Mobile +221 77 569 1925,




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