UNICEF warns of impending child nutrition crisis in Africa’s Sahel region

9 December 2011

More than a million children in the Sahel region of West Africa are at risk of severe and life-threatening malnutrition over the coming year as a result of ongoing food shortages, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) warned today, saying it requires an initial $65.7 million to respond to the crisis.

The agency is already ordering therapeutic foods and distributing emergency stocks in affected countries, it said, adding that the biggest caseload is in Niger, where an estimated 330,600 children under the age of five are at risk.

Niger’s Government has already issued an alert saying more than half of the country’s villages are vulnerable to food insecurity.

Other areas where children are expected to require specialist treatment in clinics are Chad, northern Nigeria, northern Cameroon, Burkina Faso, Mali, Mauritania and northern Senegal.

“This children’s crisis is going to be immensely challenging,” said David Gressly, UNICEF’s Regional Director for West and Central Africa. “We do not issue such warnings lightly, but the scale demands an appropriate response that needs to start now."

“A tragedy will be averted only by an unprecedented effort in the Sahel. This will involve making sure that professionals are on the ground with the right supplies and that enough is done to contain the threat of opportunistic diseases amongst the weakened populations,” Mr. Gressly added.

The initial $65.7 million needed urgently will be used primarily for nutrition and health interventions and supplies.

That amount will have to be increased substantially to ensure sustainable interventions over the course of the coming year, according to UNICEF. There will be need for not only enhanced nutrition and health programmes, but also provision of clean water, sanitation at feeding centres as well as emergency education and protection for children displaced with their families.

According to Elisabeth Byrs, spokesperson for the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) in Geneva, regional food production in the Sahel is down by 8 per cent compared to last year.

The return of migrant workers from Côte d’Ivoire and Libya to some of the countries in the region further reduced the financial capacity of households as families need to feed those who came back, often returning with nothing, she said.


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