At least one million children are at risk of dying of malnutrition in the central-western part of Africa’s Sahel region due to a drought crisis, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) said today, adding that more resources are urgently needed to help those in need.
“We estimate that in 2012 there will be over a million children suffering from severe acute malnutrition – what’s important to know is that malnutrition can kill,” UNICEF’s Director of Emergency Programmes, Louis-Georges Arsenault, said in a news release. “We need more resources to really scale up our response before it becomes too late and too many lives are lost.”
There are currently 15 million people facing food insecurity in the Sahel, which stretches from the Atlantic Ocean to the Red Sea. The nutrition crisis is affecting people throughout Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania, Niger, and the northern regions of Cameroon, Nigeria and Senegal.
According to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affair (OCHA), the food and nutrition crisis facing countries in the Sahel has continued to deteriorate at an alarming rate this year, despite commendable early response efforts by governments and international aid agencies. The worsening food shortages and malnutrition have been compounded by conflict and insecurity.
Families – many of them living in the areas which are difficult to access – are now selling their livestock, taking their children out of schools and reducing their nutritional intake, which makes them even more vulnerable as the crisis develops, UNICEF said.
The agency has appealed for $120 million to expand its operations and provide health, nutrition, water and sanitation, education and child protection services in the affected countries – however, only half of the required funding has been donated so far.
Last month, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called on the global community to act quickly to what he described as a “cascading crisis” sweeping the region. In addition, the Security Council voiced serious concern over the rapidly deteriorating humanitarian crisis, saying that the presence of armed and terrorist groups, as well as the proliferation of weapons in the area, have exacerbated the problem.
UNICEF has already set up thousands of health centres in all affected countries and sent ready-to-use therapeutic food for the treatment of severe acute malnutrition among children. It has also dispatched nutritionists, emergency specialists and support staff to the affected areas and it is working with governments, non-governmental organizations and other UN agencies to tackle the crisis.