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UNICEF: Soaring child deaths in Greater Horn of Africa must be averted


NAIROBI, July 2008 - A lethal mix of drought, expanding conflict, rising food and energy prices, disease, and high poverty is pushing children and their families in the Greater Horn of Africa to the brink of disaster. Actions and policies are needed now to avert grave human suffering.

Ethiopia and Somalia are the worst affected, but parts of Eritrea, Djibouti, Kenya and Uganda show ominously similar signs. “The time to act is now,” said Per Engebak, UNICEF’s Regional Director for East and Southern Africa, “to save children’s lives. Committed, proactive, and decisive actions on the part of national governments and international partners can mitigate the multiple threats to children and families in the Greater Horn of Africa. The signs are there and governments and international partners must heed them and act on them.”

In Somalia, buffeted by the combined shocks of conflict and by recurrent waves of drought and flooding, the global acute malnutrition rates are now above 20 per cent, higher than the 15% rate that indicates a severe nutritional situation warranting emergency responses. Similarly high rates are being found among children in other parts of the Greater Horn.

In areas of Ethiopia, drought and conflict are leaving millions food insecure and often cut off from relief. The Government estimates that 75,000 children are severely malnourished. Uganda is recording a new wave of disturbing malnutrition in the northern pastoral region of Karamoja, which has endured flooding, then drought and devastating animal diseases since last year, with malnutrition rates above 15 per cent recorded in February 2008. Malnutrition will add to the burden of children in the area who face high levels of malaria and pneumonia and where child mortality is already 30 per cent higher than the national average.

In Kenya, an estimated 1.2 million people are in need of emergency food assistance and many of those are children. Pastoralist populations in the arid and semi-arid north are particularly affected, but food insecurity is growing, an aftershock of the post- election violence which displaced people (77,000 remain cut off from their farms and livestock) and interrupted the agricultural cycle. High fuel and agricultural input costs and disappointing rains in much of the country are worsening the situation.

Throughout the Greater Horn, malnutrition is compounding the risks to survival that children routinely face, including pneumonia, diarrhoeal diseases and other infections. Recent years have seen an increase in acute watery diarrhoea and cholera in many of these countries affecting tens of thousands of children.

To stop and reverse the trends auguring another major humanitarian disaster, the international community and donors will need to fully support the responses of governments in the region to stabilize the situation and enable timely and effective responses. Resources and actions are required to ensure relief supplies and basic services, including health care and sanitation for affected populations. And systems are needed to clear and distribute food and non-food relief supplies.

“By taking these critical actions, governments and their international partners can make a huge difference in the coming months,” Engebak emphasized.


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