News / Africa

UN: One Million Children In Sahel Risk Death Or Disability

Women and children line up to receive food at a World Food Program distribution center in Mogadishu. (file photo)
Women and children line up to receive food at a World Food Program distribution center in Mogadishu. (file photo)
Lisa Schlein

The United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) warns an estimated one million young children in eight countries in the Sahel, who will suffer from severe acute malnutrition this year, are at risk of death or permanent disability.  UNICEF said Tuesday it urgently needs $67 million to provide special life-saving therapeutic feeding for these vulnerable children.

The United Nations warned drought and food shortages are threatening the lives and well-being of up to 23 million people in the Sahel region of West Africa. 

A spokeswoman for the U.N. Children’s Fund, Marixie Mercado, said malnourished children, especially those who suffer from severe acute malnutrition, are most at risk of disease, disability and death.

“Malnutrition contributes to around 35 percent of under-five child deaths around the world. The risk, obviously, is that with this crisis its impact will become much more severe and many more children risk dying or getting sick.  That is just malnutrition, compounded with disease, is very potentially lethal for children,” Mercado said.  

Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Niger, Mauritania, Senegal, and Cameroon have suffered from prolonged drought and lack of food over the past few decades.  The current crisis is predicted to be one of the worst.  

UNICEF reports acute malnutrition rates equal or exceed 10 percent in all these countries, with the exception of Cameroon.  The agency estimates it will need to procure almost 9,000 metric tons of ready-to-use therapeutic food for the affected countries.

It says this is enough to treat almost 650,000 young children suffering from severe acute malnutrition.  It says Niger has locally produced enough of this special food to treat its entire caseload of 330,000 young children.  

UNICEF’s Marixie Mercado says the crisis has not fully hit, so there still is time to prepare for it.  But, in order to do that, she says, UNICEF urgently needs money to be able to put the needed supplies in place before time runs out.

UNICEF has received only $9 million of the $120 million it needs for its humanitarian operations in the Sahel this year.  Of that total amount, she said $67 million is needed now to purchase ready-to-use therapeutic food or RUTF.

“We need to place orders for RUTF about six months in advance so that they can continue producing the quantities that we need in order to save lives.  If we do not have the funding immediately available, we cannot start placing orders so that production can continue at the speed and rate that pre-positioning requires,” said Mercado.  

If the money arrives late, Mercado said UNICEF will have to send the nutritional supplies by air instead of shipping them by sea.  She said the difference in price is enormous. Flying 100 metric tons of ready-to-use therapeutic food to the Sahel will cost $350,000, while moving the same amount by sea will cost $13,000.

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