The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) has called for urgent emergency relief for thousands of children and pregnant and nursing mothers at risk from the ongoing drought in Kenya.
The agency said it needs nearly $3 million for targeted projects throughout the country, where more than one in five children are acutely malnourished in the worst-affected districts. The situation is especially critical for an estimated 30,000 children and 10,000 pregnant and nursing mothers who are in immediate need of nutritional support, and 200,000 people who need emergency water supplies.
“We must also act quickly to protect the most vulnerable children and women from malaria, to immunize children against measles and polio, and build their immunity to disease with Vitamin A supplements,” said UNICEF Representative Heimo Laakkonen.
Inadequate rainfall from December to January, during the “short rains” season, is to blame for the continuing crisis. Across northern Kenya, the rains improved this year but not enough to ease the drought. In Mandera district, which borders Somalia and Ethiopia, the effects of drought have been compounded by rising violence from cross-border and inter-clan conflicts that has led to more than 20,000 people fleeing their homes since December. More than a quarter of all children in Mandera are acutely malnourished.
Hungry children are especially vulnerable to diseases like measles and malaria, yet health services in drought-affected areas are unable to respond adequately, UNICEF said. Most are poorly staffed and managed and suffer from acute drug shortages. Immunization coverage in North Eastern province is the worst in the country.
“Food, water and immunization are urgently needed but are not enough,” added Mr. Laakkonen. “We must also ensure that drought does not force children to drop out of school, or increase the risk of sexual exploitation and abuse."
In the next four months, working with partners under the Office of the President’s Kenya Food Security Group, UNICEF aims to reach over 200,000 vulnerable children and women with emergency health, water, nutrition, education and protection programmes.
School drop out rates are increasing in drought-affected areas that already have the lowest school enrolment in the country. Just 10 per cent of girls of primary school age are enrolled in schools in North Eastern province.