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Eight million people need relief assistance in Horn of Africa

Friday, July 27, 2012

About eight million people in the drought stricken Horn of Africa region requires humanitarian assistance exactly a year after food crisis reached its peak in the region, a UN children’s agency said on Friday.

UNICEF said however it managed to scale up both its emergency and development work in drought-stricken parts of Somalia, Kenya, Ethiopia and Djibouti, where more than 13 million people were in need of humanitarian assistance with 396 million U.S. dollars which was provided by donors in 2011.

“Eight million people across Somalia, Ethiopia and Kenya are still in need of humanitarian assistance. Children, in particular, are threatened by a combination of poverty, insecurity, malnutrition, and disease,” UNICEF Regional Director for Eastern and Southern Africa, Elhadj As Sy said in a statement issued in Nairobi.

Sy said this was, and continues to be a children’s emergency and called on the international community to continue providing emergency assistance where needed, but must also work more closely with communities to boost their capacities against future shocks.

“While our life-saving interventions and supplies reached millions of children and their families, many could not be reached and remain extremely vulnerable,” Sy said.

There are currently more than 15 million people at risk of malnutrition in its Sahel region alone – stretching from the Atlantic Ocean to the Red Sea – and an equal number in the Horn of Africa remain vulnerable after last year’s food crisis in Djibouti, Ethiopia, Kenya, and Somalia.

With more than one in four of its 856 million people undernourished, Sub-Saharan Africa remains the world’s most food- insecure region.  Horn of Africa crisis one year on – Famine reversed, countless lives saved, but situation of millions of women and children still grave.

UNICEF said it requires 273 million dollars for 2012 to continue its ongoing relief efforts, as well as invest in resilience-building in Somalia, Kenya and Ethiopia, adding that only 33 per cent of the funds had been received as at July 12.

“The crisis forced thousands of people out of their homes. There are now more than 626,000 Somali refugees in Kenya and Ethiopia. Inside Somalia, more than one million people are internally displaced, nearly 60 per cent of them children,” Sy said.

Last year’s drought made some 3.8 million Kenyans dependent on food aid and an estimated 2.2 million people remain in need of assistance, including 250,000 who are in humanitarian crisis.

The East African nation is among six sub-Saharan Africa countries that will continue to experience food deficits despite making good economic progress.

Kenya, for instance, has developed a drought insurance scheme which delivers payments to smallholder farmers based on rainfall levels monitored by weather stations.  

Sub-Saharan Africa’s high rates of economic growth in recent years – some of the fastest in the world – and improvements in life expectancy and schooling have not led to commensurate improvements in food security, it says.

The crisis in the Horn of Africa reached boiling point when the United Nations declared famine in two regions of southern Somalia.

The extraordinary international support, coupled with favourable rains, helped save countless lives and reverse the famine. However, the crisis is far from over.

Sy said immediate emergency assistance, although crucial to address health, nutrition, and water and sanitation needs, will not prevent future crises.

He said drawing inspirations from communities’ own responses and coping strategies to crises, UNICEF has been increasingly working over the years on long-term interventions to build resilience and address the needs of the most vulnerable.

“Traditional coping mechanisms are being stretched to the limit for many communities. The cycle of crises must be broken through new means of supporting communities to withstand and recover better from disaster,” Sy said.

He said about 63,000 metric tonnes of relief supplies were delivered between July and December 2011 - half of these were supplementary and therapeutic food. To date, nearly one million children have been treated for malnutrition across the region, he said.

“We need to preserve our hard-won gains, and invest in children today to prevent similar crises from happening again in the future, “ Sy said.

UNICEF official said disaster risk reduction is now being integrated into UNICEF’s emergency and development programmes to further build resilience.

He said the UN children’s agency is strengthening basic services for health, nutrition, sanitation and education at community level as well as also working with partners to strengthen safety nets for vulnerable families using cash transfers.

“With a third of the population, or 2.5 million, still in need of emergency assistance, Somalia remains the worst affected country In some regions of the South, one in five children is suffering from life-threatening acute malnutrition,” he said.

According to UNICEF, 2.2 million people are in need of humanitarian assistance in Kenya, so are 3.2 million people in Ethiopia.

He decried malnutrition rate which he said, continues to be a serious concern, adding that currently 900,000 children are estimated to be suffering from malnutrition in the three countries.

He noted that conflict, instability, poor rains and continued restricted access for aid agencies pose a major threat to children and their families.

“There are already indications that the situation could deteriorate in southern Somalia, where acute malnutrition among children under five in some places is nearly twice the emergency threshold,” Sy added.


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