Nearly five million children in Horn of Africa now hungry, UNICEF says
14 October 2009 – The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) sounded the alarm on the worsening humanitarian situation in the Horn of Africa today, noting that nearly five million children under the age of five in the region are now hungry.
This marks an increase of 1 million since May, while the number of people in need of emergency assistance in the region has also risen, climbing from 20 million earlier this year to 24 million, the agency said.
During 2009, some 500,000 under-five children will suffer from life-threatening severe acute malnutrition.
The food insecurity has been in large part triggered by prolonged drought resulting in less than half the normal rainfall, which has lead to enormous losses in livestock and surging food prices.
The El Niño weather pattern is expected to result in flooding in parts of the Horn of Africa, which could lead to further crop failures and raise the spectre of water-borne diseases and acute malnutrition. It could also disrupt education services in a region where schooling is already in flux due to chronic emergency situations.
Also contributing to food insecurity in the area is the continuing conflict in Somalia, which has impacts extending beyond its borders, UNICEF said in a news release issued in Nairobi.
The agency said that in spite of its joint efforts with regional governments and non-governmental organizations, “our efforts are increasingly being stretched because our emergency programmes are severely underfunded,” said Elhadj As Sy, UNICEF’s Regional Director for Eastern and Southern Africa.
As of the end of last month, UNICEF had received just over one third of the $189 million needed in Djibouti, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Kenya, Somalia and parts of Uganda.
Thanks to UNICEF’s support, Ethiopia has made strides in supporting severely malnourished children at the community level, with the number of treatment sites surging from 500 in 2007 to over 3,200 currently.
In Uganda, almost 5,000 children have been treated for severe acute malnourishment.
“These examples show that much can be achieved even under the most difficult circumstances,” Mr. Sy noted.
He underscored the need to address the root causes of the recurrent crises in the Horn of Africa to achieve sustainable results in a region where nearly half of all children under the age of five 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.”