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Over 1 Million Children in Sahel Face Malnutrition

The United Nations Children's Fund warns an estimated 1.25 million children in the Sahel region of Africa are facing severe and life threatening malnutrition during the coming year. UNICEF is launching a multi-million dollar appeal to provide the emergency therapeutic care needed to save these children's lives.

The U.N. Children's Fund reports the largest number of children at risk of severe and acute malnutrition is in Niger. It says an estimated 330,600 children under five are in danger. The government of Niger reports more than half of the country's villages are vulnerable to food insecurity.

Spokeswoman for the U.N. Children's Fund, Marixie Mercado, says children in seven other countries and regions also will require specialist treatment in clinics for malnutrition. They include Chad, northern Nigeria, the north of Cameroon, Burkina Faso, Mali, Mauritania and northern Senegal.

"Our nutrition teams warn that there is very little time," said Mercado. "Malnutrition rates have already surpassed emergency thresholds in some regions of Chad and parts of Niger, for example. The poor rains and the harvest mean that the lean season could begin months earlier for Niger and some other countries. It is critical to make sure that the health facilities and health workers have the supplies and the resources they need now."

UNICEF is urgently appealing for nearly $66 million. The money primarily will be used for nutrition and health interventions and supplies. Mercado says the amount of money requested will be increased substantially to make sure supplies are able to meet the desperate needs.

"Our offices are also emphasizing that it is possible to avert a catastrophe," added Mercado. "In 2010, a predicted famine was turned around in Niger. This will take early concerted action. UNICEF is obviously not in a position to issue a famine warning. What we are warning is a serious nutritional crisis in the Sahel that is affecting more countries and more people. It is a chronic crisis that has just got worse."

Mercado says UNICEF has begun releasing emergency supplies including therapeutic foods to health authorities, as well as to its partners.

Besides nutritional care, she says UNICEF also will provide clean water, sanitation at feeding centers, as well as emergency education and protection for children displaced with their families.