GENEVA — The United Nations Children's Fund
(UNICEF) reports many severely malnourished children in West Africa’s Sahel region are at risk of dying if they do not receive special therapeutic feeding. UNICEF says between one and 1.5 million children are expected to require life-saving treatment for this condition in Niger, Chad, Mali, Mauritania and Burkina Faso.
Critical need for aid
International aid agencies report the situation is particularly critical in Niger where an estimated 400,000 children are expected to require life-saving treatment for severe, acute malnutrition this year.
UNICEF says children in the Sahel are particularly weakened because of an upsurge in cholera, the conflict in northern Mali, food shortages and an invasion of locusts from northwest Africa, which is disrupting the summer planting season.
UNICEF spokesman, Patrick McCormick, says all these factors are creating a particularly dangerous situation for children in Niger. He says on average, 1,000 new cases of severely acutely malnourished children under age five are being admitted to treatment centers every day.
He says UNICEF is running dozens of therapeutic feeding programs throughout the Sahel that are proving to be extremely effective. “If a child is severely acutely malnourished and gets the right treatment in a very short space of time. We are talking about 24 hours, that child will survive," McCormick stated. "If not, that child will die. We have actually traced a child that went through one of our treatment centers and is fine now, having gone through the treatment. It works. But, it is very expensive.”
UNICEF and other aid agencies are hampered by a lack of funds. So far, UNICEF has received only $93 million of the $238 million it needs for its humanitarian operations in the Sahel this year.
Vital operations, under-funded
But he notes most of the contributions are earmarked for food and other life-saving emergencies. While this is important, he notes other vital operations are seriously under-funded.
“Education. Across the five appeals, which asked for a relatively modest $18 million is seven percent funded. The health sector, which asked for $65 million is 17 percent funded. The WASH sector [water, sanitation and hygiene] critical for combating cholera asked $53 million is 21 percent funded. A fourth sector, which is also critical because we have conflict and insecurity in the area is protection, human rights, rule of law, which asked for $43 million is 20 percent funded,” Laerke explained.
Laerke calls the seven percent funding for education particularly deplorable. He says it is absolutely critical to have money for emergency education. He says keeping children in school can help them go through this humanitarian crisis.