UNICEF (UN Children’s Fund) has called for an immediate expansion of assistance across the Horn of Africa’s drought affected communities to address the dire needs of more than two million children. Half a million of these children are at imminent risk of dying. With no improvement in the overall food security conditions expected before early 2012, the already severe nutrition situation will likely worsen further.
“What we are seeing here is almost a perfect storm – conflict in Somalia, rising fuel and food prices, and drought and the loss of the rain. Now we are going to go another four to five months before there will be a harvest and we all have a huge job ahead,” said UNICEF Executive Director Anthony Lake at the end of a four-day mission to Kenya. “In many of the poorest communities people are either too poor or too weak to be able to try to walk for help.”
Across the region, nearly 11 million people are at risk. Thousands of women and children are fleeing central and southern Somalia every day. The crisis, however, extends well beyond the daily flow of refugees into Kenya and Ethiopia: it is also affecting millions of subsistence farmers and pastoralists in these two countries who are dependent on the rains for their survival.
During a field mission to the arid region of Turkana in northern Kenya, Lake saw the silent face of the crisis. He met with pastoralists whose livestock had been decimated by the consequences of a ten-year drought. Malnutrition rates in some parts of Turkana have skyrocketed to 37 per cent. At a meeting in Kapua village, a satellite point for food distribution, hundreds of once nomadic herders, gathered to share their experiences and asked not to be forgotten. While safety nets and humanitarian assistance helped sustain these communities in the past, the breakdown of the food pipeline means that supply is now sporadic and inadequate.
Lake heard from women who have to walk from dawn to midday in search for water in dry river beds. He heard how children were surviving if lucky on one meal a day, comprised often only of palm nuts, and lactating mothers did not produce enough milk to feed their newborns.
It is a situation that had been replicated in other communities across the semi-arid and arid areas of Kenya, Ethiopia, Djibouti, and Somalia. “This is not just a question about lives being threatened but a way of life being threatened,” he said. In Somalia, hundreds of thousands of children and their families were already on the move to seek assistance either within camps for internally displaced people or flowing across the border into neighboring countries.
Lake pledged UNICEF’s continued support, stressing that the international children’s agency would continue working closely with partners to scale up an emergency response in the region, which has been underfunded for many years. He called on the international community and private donors alike to step up funding for UNICEF, WFP, UNHCR and other partners, and to focus new effort on finding solutions that address the deep-seated poverty and vulnerability in the region.
Across drought affected areas in the Horn of Africa, UNICEF is working with partners to treat acute malnutrition through therapeutic feeding programmes; provide medicines and vaccinations to prevent disease; gain access to clean water through the repair of pumping stations, digging boreholes, chlorination of water sources and water trucking; support education through temporary learning spaces and the use of School-in-a-Box kits; and scale up of protection measures to ensure children are safe from violence, abuse and exploitation. UNICEF has appealed for US$ 31 million to cover the costs of most urgent scale up of operations.
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