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UNICEF starts distributing life-saving food to malnourished Ethiopian children

UNICEF starts distributing life-saving food to malnourished Ethiopian children

Hundreds of tons of ready-to-eat therapeutic food are being distributed in drought-hit Ethiopia as part of efforts by the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) to help a majority of the estimated 75,000 severely malnourished children in the country.

UNICEF said today it has ordered 772 tons of Plumpy’Nut, a peanut-based paste that requires no cooking or preparation and can be packaged easily, for distribution in more than 100 drought-affected districts.

The food, which has been arriving in Addis Ababa over the past three weeks, will be delivered to regional health bureaux and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) through an airlift operation of two cargo flights per week over a four-week period.

UNICEF estimates that the supplies of Plumpy’Nut – which were bought with loans secured as part of the emergency response to the drought – will benefit nearly 19,000 children per month for the next three months.

This is still short of the 75,000 children classed as severely malnourished in southern and eastern Ethiopia, where the next major harvest is not expected until at least September.

Bjorn Ljungqvist, UNICEF representative to Ethiopia, said the children in need cannot wait until then.

“We are in a race against time as we try to bring in enough supplies to save lives,” he said.

The agency has appealed for $49 million to meet immediate humanitarian needs in Ethiopia, where about 4.6 million people are now thought to need aid. But so far it has secured only $5.6 million and received pledges for an additional $23 million.

“We urgently need more resources to take us through to the next harvest, when we expect things to get back on track,” Mr. Ljungqvist said.

Plumpy’Nut is scientifically formulated to be dense in nutrients and to have the right balance of proteins, energy, fats, vitamins and minerals to treat severe malnutrition for children without medical complications or serious illness. The food is packaged in sachets or small pots and tastes like a slightly sweeter kind of peanut butter.

An 18-month-old child with severe acute malnutrition, weighing about seven kilograms, requires three sachets of Plumpy’Nut every day over a four-to-six-week period to recover.

Overall, UN humanitarian agencies are seeking at least $325 million from the international community for their Ethiopian relief programmes as a result of the drought.