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Dennis McKinlay, Executive Director of UNICEF NZ (UN Children’s Fund), is currently in the Horn of Africa seeing first-hand how UNICEF is spending Kiwi dollars to save children affected by the worst drought in the region in 60 years.
McKinlay arrived in Nairobi on Sunday and then flew into Dadaab – now Kenya’s 2nd largest city due to the massive influx of refugees from Somalia. He says, “As we landed in Dadaab all I could see was brown barren land. Our first visit was to Dagahley transit camp. UNICEF buses refugees to the camp from the Somali border town of Liboi, so that they can access food and tents. For many this is the first good meal they have had in days.
“From the transit camp people move to a permanent camp where they are screened for health problems. At Dagahley camp we visited a child-friendly space for early education and play. Like children everywhere, these kids were happy and full of enthusiasm and energy which is just remarkable given their circumstances.
“Next we visited a hospital where children are treated for acute malnutrition and diahorrea. UNICEF therapeutic milk and foods are used to help the children build their strength up so that they can eat normally again. It was heartbreaking to see two-year-old children who weigh the same as a four month old baby, but the positive is that once they are identified as malnourished these children can be brought back from a certain death.”
McKinlay is in the Horn of Africa until Friday 14 October to look further at how the $570k raised so far by UNICEF NZ is translating into life-saving interventions. In the region UNICEF is providing therapeutic foods (there are 800 feeding centres across Somalia alone), carrying out huge vaccination campaigns and targeting more than four million people with clean water and sanitation services.
UNICEF’s water and sanitation support includes constructing water yards, rehabilitating shallow wells and providing water kits. McKinlay will visit two such projects on his trip to the region and will meet with recently displaced pastoralists now reliant on this support. He will also travel to Wajir - one of the worst regions in Kenya affected by the drought – to gauge the impact on local people and to see how UNICEF has responded. This includes a visit to the local hospital to meet children and their families affected by severe acute malnutrition and conditions such as malaria, pneumonia and diarrhoea.
McKinlay adds, “It has been a real learning experience so far. The sad truth is that things in the region are going to get worse in the Horn of Africa, but balanced against this bad news is the tremendous progress and the numbers of children whose lives have been saved because of UNICEF and our supporters in New Zealand.”
UNICEF’s total funding requirements for the emergency response stand at over US$360 million until the end of 2011. There is still a shortfall of over $50m and UNICEF NZ urgently needs funds. Life-saving measures are not expensive with a packet of therapeutic food costing just 70 cents. Please donate now at www.unicef.org.nz or call 0800 800 194.