The United Nations Children's Fund warns nearly 860,000 children under age five in Africa's Sahel region are at risk of severe malnutrition. UNICEF says five countries in the Sahel are facing a food crisis because of bad harvests brought on by an ongoing drought.
Niger is the most seriously affected country. The United Nations Children's Fund reports nearly 380,000 children under age five are at risk of severe malnutrition because of lack of food.
But, the agency warns hundreds of thousands of children in Burkina Faso, Mauritania, Mali, and Chad are also threatened by food shortages.
Millions of people throughout the region are suffering from the ongoing drought and crop failure. But UNICEF Deputy Director for Emergency Operations Dermot Cartney says children are always the most vulnerable.
"We know that chronic malnutrition compromises the life of the child from the very beginning," he said. "From the moment of conception… a child has to fight the fight to survive if the mother is suffering from acute malnutrition. Once the child is born and begins to grow, the child needs to get access to vitamins and minerals. In these situations, unfortunately, these minerals and a proper amount of food is not available."
Cartney says the lack of proper nutrition compromises the growth and cognitive development of the child.
UNICEF says an estimated 859,000 children under the age of five are classified as being severely malnourished and in need of special therapeutic feeding.
UNICEF spokeswoman, Christiane Berthiaume, tells VOA her agency knows what needs to be done and is ready to provide the necessary services to treat these malnourished children.
"Now, what we need is the funds to put in place all our programs and to avoid the worst," she said. "And, we have a very short period of time. In two months time it is going to be the peak. That is when it is going to be really bad because people are already suffering. Families are exhausting their stocks. They have less and less food for the family. They are moving. They are taking out children from school because they are leaving their villages to try to go somewhere else to find some food."
Berthiaume says UNICEF needs $50 million for its life-saving programs in the Sahel. So far, she says the agency has received only half the amount needed to deal with the crisis.