The U.N. Children's Fund, UNICEF, says Ethiopian children are facing an epidemic of lethal diseases. UNICEF says outbreaks of malaria and diarrhea have gripped the drought-stricken region of Oromia, following rains that have created conditions for waterborne diseases.
People in drought-stricken Ethiopia have been praying for rain for the past two years. And, now that the rains have come, they are proving to be a mixed blessing.
Spokesman for the U.N. Children's Fund, Damien Personnaz, says the rains that have fallen in the Oromia region for the past week are good for the crops, but they are a potential threat to children, many of whom are malnourished and are particularly vulnerable to disease. One threat, he says, is mosquitoborne malaria.
"What happened is that the soil was extremely dry, and, therefore, very strong," he said. "And the water could not really be absorbed by the soil, so it ran everywhere, and, therefore, it also created some holes. And, very quickly, because of the heat, these holes became very good places for mosquitoes breeding."
In addition, Personnaz says, rainwater is washing over the carcasses of dead animals that have perished in the drought, and contaminating drinking water.
Personnaz says that puts people at risk of contracting diarrhea or dysentery. He says diarrhea is the number one killer of children in Africa. UNICEF estimates up to 700,000 children in Oromia are at risk of becoming sick.
Personnaz says UNICEF soon will launch a major campaign to help address this emergency.
"What we are going to do is to distribute mosquito nets," he added. "This is the most efficient tool to combat malaria and to fight against the spread of malaria among the children. That is one thing. In terms of waterborne diseases, it is a bit more complicated, because we need to set up some water activities, and we also have to distribute immediately some water purification tablets, which can be used by families to at least purify the water they are going to drink."
Personnaz says there is still time to make a difference in the region. He says donations large and small are beginning to come in. They range from $3 million, donated by the government of Sweden to a contribution of $1,500 collected by a group of school children in California.