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The United Nations Children's Fund warns many children suffering from severe acute malnutrition in Ethiopia are at risk of death. The United Nations says 6.2 million people in the country are in need of food aid, the highest number for 25 years when one million people died of famine.
Several years of erratic rainfall, high food and fuel prices and the global financial meltdown have robbed Ethiopia of its ability to feed its own people. The United Nations says more than six million people are going hungry.
It warns lack of food weakens peoples' immune system, makes them vulnerable to disease and, possibly, death. Among the most vulnerable are children.
According to the U.N. Children's Fund, an estimated 270,000 children suffer from severe acute malnutrition and are in urgent need of special therapeutic feeding.
In a telephone briefing from Addis Ababa, UNICEF representative in Ethiopia, Ted Chaiban, considers the challenges ahead daunting. But, he says his agency is not without resources.
He says several programs have been functioning for years that are making a difference. One is a productive safety net program, which is a cash and food transfer program for families that lack food.
He says another program provides health services to every village in Ethiopia. And a third program treats severe acute malnutrition at community level.
"The result of that is that you treat children early on and you avoid complications and you save many more lives," said Chaiban. "A child that is severely acutely malnourished that is not treated has a 30 to 50 percent chance of dying. We now have 3,200 points which can do this treatment at community level and that is 1,600 percent increase since 2007."
Chaiban says UNICEF needs nearly $39 million to carry out a few essential activities. He says the agency needs to pre-position ready-to-use therapeutic food to treat severely acutely malnourished children.
He says UNICEF needs money to buy saline solutions and antibiotics to protect children from diarrhea and to establish safe water points. He says insecticide-treated bed nets are needed to protect children from malaria.
And, in some areas, particularly the Somali area of Ethiopia, a critical measles vaccination campaign is being planned. He says this is crucial because the combination of measles and malnutrition is deadly to children.