11 May 2009

Never Much Good News

Millions Threatened With Hunger and Disease in Horn of Africa

By Lisa Schlein
10 May 2009

Voice of America

The U.N. Children's Fund says the lives of a growing number of children in the Horn of Africa are threatened by chronic food insecurity, conflict and political instability.

Children and their parents pick up single corn kernels spilled on the road side by trucks ferrying maize corn imported from South Africa in Masvingo, south of Harare (File)

The U.N. Children's Fund says an all too familiar tragedy is unfolding in the Horn of Africa. It warns an already bad situation for children will only get worse unless the world acts with much greater urgency to provide food and other assistance.
It says countries in the region are reeling from a combination of erratic weather patterns, the global economic crisis and intensifying conflict and insecurity. It says piracy and the hijacking of ships off the Somali coast also is adding to the emergency.
UNICEF spokeswoman, Miranda Eeles, says 19.8-million people, including four-million children under the age of five, are in need of emergency relief assistance.
"This is a substantial increase over the September 2008 figure of 14 million people requiring assistance," said Eeles. "Over the last few months, there has been a steady increase in the numbers of children suffering from acute malnutrition. Data collected from nutrition surveillance and feeding centers indicate growing numbers of children are suffering from acute malnutrition, a condition which if not treated quickly can lead to death."   
To illustrate the gravity of the situation, UNICEF notes the rates of acute malnutrition in two provinces in Eritrea were above the World Health Organization emergency threshold of 15 percent.  
In Ethiopia, it says poor food security and nutrition conditions in some parts of the country may get worse because of the late start of the rains and the approaching hunger gap.
In Eastern Kenya, it says a major cholera outbreak caused by poor water and sanitation also is contributing to acute malnutrition and mortality. It says acute rates of malnutrition in both Somalia and Djibouti are beyond the emergency threshold.
It says lack of safe water and sanitation is putting millions of people at risk from waterborne disease. And, cholera and diarrheal disease outbreaks have been reported throughout the Horn of Africa.  
UNICEF says aid agencies urgently need funds from International donors to carry out their aid programs.  The children's agency says it has received less than 10 percent of the $178 million emergency appeal it launched earlier this year.
It warns it will be unable to carry out its humanitarian operations for millions of vulnerable children and women this year if it does not receive this money.