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UNICEF Alarmed by Malnutrition in Horn of Africa

The U.N. Children's Fund says drought-stricken areas of the Horn of Africa are afflicted by record high levels of malnutrition among children. The aid agency says tens of thousands of drought victims are fleeing to parts of Kenya and Ethiopia where they hope to find food.

The numbers are extremely alarming. The U.N. Children’s Fund estimates 480,000 children in Somalia, Kenya and Ethiopia will be severely malnourished this year. This is a 50 percent increase over last year’s figure.

UNICEF finds the worst affected children are in southern Somalia, where at least one in three children is severely malnourished. UNICEF spokeswoman Marixie Mercado says humanitarian conditions there are the worst in a decade.

“Right now 2.85 million people, or one in three Somalis, is in crisis. That means lacking safe water and sanitation, health services, vulnerable to illness and at risk due to the conflict. In drought-affected areas of Kenya, monthly admissions for treatment of severe malnutrition are 78 percent higher than last year. In the Turkana district, that is up in the northeast, global acute malnutrition rates are the highest ever recorded in the district, at 37.4 percent,” Mercado said.

The United Nations reports more than 10 million people in the Horn of Africa are affected by the most severe drought to strike the region over the past 60 years. Two consecutive years or poor rain has resulted in crop failure and the death of up to 30 percent of livestock.

Aid agencies report an increase in food prices is pushing many moderately poor families over the edge. And, they say, people are fleeing to refugee camps in Kenya and Ethiopia in unprecedented numbers for food and help.

Mercado says almost half the children arriving in Ethiopia are malnourished. “In Melkadida refugee camp, crude death rates for young children are above the emergency threshold of four deaths per 10,000 children per day. The camps are extremely overcrowded, and the basics-safe water, sanitation, food, nutrition, shelter, are less than adequate,” Mercado said.

Mercado says UNICEF is working with the U.N. refugee agency to scale up assistance to children in the refugee camps in Kenya and Ethiopia. She says the needs are huge. Somalia alone needs at least $10 million over the next month.

She says UNICEF and other aid agencies have very little cash in which to take care of the basic needs of the millions of drought victims. She warns many children will die of hunger if there is not enough money to deal with this humanitarian crisis.