Donor fatigue, cynicism could lead to millions of deaths in Ethiopia, UN children’s agency warns

6 July 2005

Despite the enthusiasm surrounding the last weekend’s Live 8 concerts in the run up to the G8 summit meeting, The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) has warned that donors are showing increasingly worrying signs of “compassion fatigue” over the plight of Ethiopia’s severely malnourished and dying children.

Preventable diseases and malnutrition on average kill up to half a million Ethiopian children a year – more than the entire population of Edinburgh, close to the site of the G8 Summit of the world’s most industrialized nations, which kicked off today.

“It is becoming increasingly difficult to persuade people that this is a global scandal,” said Bjorn Ljungqvist, UNICEF Representative in Ethiopia, stressing that major donors are not stepping up fast enough to provide vital funding for a package of life-saving treatments, screenings and other interventions.

Following an additional surge in severe acute malnutrition cases, up to 170,000 Ethiopian children will die from this condition alone by the end of the year if not treated, UNICEF estimates.

“A cloud of cynicism has settled over Africa – cynicism caused by everything from corruption to armed conflicts, cynicism felt by everyone from donors to the general public. But this cloud hides the fact that innocent children are dying unnecessarily. There are simple things that we can do and must do to save these children.”

He spoke out as UNICEF was preparing to release an urgent update appeal to major donors, asking them to fill a $42 million gap in funding.

“In total, 7 million Ethiopian children suffer from some form of malnutrition every year, with serious consequences for their health and development. But there is a growing idea that these are ‘normal’ levels of child deaths and malnutrition for Ethiopia – that this is the ‘usual’ situation,” he said.

“There is nothing ‘normal’ about 500,000 children dying every year. That is more than the population of Edinburgh in Scotland or Las Vegas in the United States. It would be an unimaginable tragedy if this happened in any country in the developed world.”

Earlier this year UNICEF Ethiopia appealed for just short of US$54.7 million to support Ethiopia’s most vulnerable children during 2005 – US$15 million for water and sanitation work, US$39.7 million for health and nutrition.

But today – more than half way through the year – the 2005 Emergency campaign is still almost US$42 million or 76.6 per cent short.

Health and nutrition services – designed to save the lives of the country’s most vulnerable children with everything from anti-malaria mosquito nets to measles shots – have received just over a quarter of the necessary funds.

Research shows that something as simple as vitamin A supplements every six months has the potential to reduce mortality by 23 per cent in the youngest children. Treatment of severe acute malnutrition, where it happens in Ethiopia, is reducing fatalities in severely malnourished children from 25-50 per cent to below 5 per cent.


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