4 things you need to know about water and famine

 

4 things you need to know about water and famine

Internally Displaced People fill containers with water at a tap inside the Dalori camp in Maiduguri, Borno State, Nigeria, Friday 3 March 2017.

The prolonged humanitarian crisis in the wake of the Boko Haram insurgency has had a devastating impact on food security and nutrition in northeast Nigeria, leading to famine-like conditions in some areas, according to a World Food Programme (WFP) situation report from late February 2017. The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) projects that by June 2017 some 5.1 million people in Nigeria will be food insecure at crisis and emergency levels. As of 15 March 2017, over the past 12 months, UNICEF and partners have provided safe water to nearly 666,000 people and treated nearly 170,000 children suffering from severe acute malnutrition in the three conflict-affected northeast Nigerian states of Borno, Yobe and Adamawa. As part of cholera preparedness, UNICEF and other WASH Sector partners are building the capacity of government and NGOs on cholera response and developing contingency plans with other stakeholders before the rainy season starting mid-April. Prepositioning of supplies for cholera response and mapping cholera hotspots are part of the preventive measures that are being planned.

© UNICEF/UN055942/Gilbertson

Conflict, drought, displacement and disease are driving massive humanitarian crises, leaving 20 million people at risk of famine across Yemen, Somalia, South Sudan and north-east Nigeria – including nearly 1.4 million severely malnourished children at imminent risk of death.

These crises are spreading to surrounding countries, with severe drought impacting the Horn of Africa; more than one million South Sudanese refugees fleeing conflict, stretching capacity and resources in Uganda; and displacement throughout the Lake Chad basin resulting from conflict, climate change, environmental degradation and poverty.

When we think of famine, we often think of a lack of food. But increasingly the crisis is one not only of food insecurity but also of clean water, sanitation and health care – especially disease prevention and treatment. Water and sanitation are just as important as food for children and families facing famine and food insecurity. Here are four reasons why:

A woman holds a UNICEF donated bucket during a Rapid Response Mission (RRM) in the village of Rubkuai, Unity State, South Sudan, February 16, 2017. In 2017 in South Sudan, ongoing insecurity, combined with an economic crisis that has pushed inflation above 800 percent, has created widespread food insecurity with malnutrition among children having reached emergency levels in most parts of the country. In 2016, UNICEF and partners admitted 184,000 children for treatment of severe malnutrition. That is 50 percent higher than the number treated in 2015 and an increase of 135 percent over 2014. In February 2017, war and a collapsing economy have left some 100,000 people facing starvation in parts of South Sudan where famine was declared 20 February, three UN agencies warned. A further 1 million people are classified as being on the brink of famine. The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and the World Food Programme (WFP) also warned that urgent action is needed to prevent more people from dying of hunger. If sustained and adequate assistance is delivered urgently, the hunger situation can be improved in the coming months and further suffering mitigated.  The total number of food insecure people is expected to rise to 5.5 million at the height of the lean season in July if nothing is done to curb the severity and spread of the food crisis. According to the Integrated Food Security Phase Classification (IPC) update released 20 February by the government, the three agencies and other humanitarian partners, 4.9 million people – more than 40 percent of South Sudan’s population – are in need of urgent food, agriculture and nutrition assistance. Unimpeded humanitarian access to everyone facing famine, or at risk of famine, is urgently needed to reverse the escalating catastrophe, the UN agencies urged. Further spread of famine can only be prevented if humanitarian assistance is scaled up and

© UNICEF/UN053466/Modola

A woman holds a UNICEF donated bucket during a Rapid Response Mission in the village of Rubkuai, Unity State, South Sudan.

1. Conflict

Conflict is the common factor driving the threat of famine in all four countries. Conflicts have damaged or destroyed water and sanitation systems in each country. In Yemen, two years of intense fighting has caused damage and disrepair to urban water supply networks causing the near collapse of these lifelines in the country’s largest cities. In conflict-affected areas in north-east Nigeria, 75 per cent of water and sanitation infrastructure has been damaged or destroyed since the beginning of the conflict. In South Sudan, where fighting has raged for over three years, almost half the water points across the country have been damaged or completely destroyed.

Seventeen-year-old Amal pushes a wheelbarrow with a jerry can of untreated water from a tap on the outskirts of Juba, South Sudan, Friday 17 March 2017. “I don’t have to walk to the river any more, which means I have more time to study, but the water is still dirty, and I worry about my younger siblings getting sick when they drink it” says Amal, who fetches water every day. A worsening water crisis, fuelled in part by conflict and a deteriorating economy, is just one more challenge families in Juba face on a daily basis. In 2015, an estimated 13 percent of residents had access to municipal water, supplied mainly through a small piped network and boreholes – but this number is likely to have dropped following the violence that hit the city in 2016. For those without municipal access, water is mostly provided through private sector water trucking. Because they draw untreated water straight from the White Nile river, UNICEF, in coordination with the Juba city council, has been providing the trucks with chlorine to treat the water and reduce the spread of deadly waterborne diseases. There are more than 2,000 water tankers in the city, but as running costs continue to rise, so to does the price of water for customers. The lack of safe water means those living in the capital are at huge risk to the spread of deadly waterborne diseases, with children especially vulnerable, exacerbating a growing nutrition crisis. A cholera outbreak which started in Juba in July 2016 has already killed 83 people and infected almost 4,500 others. Many of those who have been affected live in poor neighbourhoods, with little access to safe water and sanitation facilities.

© UNICEF/UN057031/Hatcher-Moore

Amal, 17, pushes a wheelbarrow with a jerry can of untreated water from a tap on the outskirts of Juba, South Suan.

2. Drought

Climate change and extreme weather events like droughts and floods can deplete or contaminate water supplies. This threatens both the quality and the quantity of the water that entire communities rely on. As families in areas of extreme water stress compete for scarce or unsafe water sources, they are driven from their homes, increasing their vulnerability to disease and protection risks. In Somalia, the humanitarian situation is rapidly deteriorating because of a severe drought that started in the north in 2016 and is now affecting most of the country. Other countries in the Horn of Africa have also been affected, especially Djibouti, Ethiopia and Kenya. In South Sudan, seasonal dry weather has reinforced competition for water among people and animals, causing already scarce water sources to be overused. West Africa’s Lake Chad has lost some 90 per cent of its water mass since 1963 due to climatic variability and population pressure, with devastating consequences on food security in the region.

On 12 May 2017 at the Sab'een Hospital in Sana'a, Yemen, patients suffering from severe diarrhoea or cholera receive treatment. Over 69,559 suspected cases of diarrhea have been reported so far across Yemen with 578 deaths as at 1 June 2017. In the last 24 hours alone, the numbers of suspected cholera cases have gone up from 65,300 to over 69,559 across Yemen. An average of 1100 children suffering from acute watery diarrhea are reporting to health facilities every day for the past two weeks across the war-torn country. In the last four weeks, the disease has claimed at least 578 lives of which nearly 40 per cent are children. The collapse of the water and sanitation system, barely functional hospitals and cash stripped economy means that 27.7 million Yemenis are staring at an unforgiving humanitarian catastrophe. There is a shortage of doctors and nursing staff, many of whom haven’t been paid for months as well as a shortage of medicines and IV fluid. UNICEF has flown in three aircrafts carrying over 41 tons of lifesaving supplies including medicines, oral rehydration salts, diarrhea disease kits, intravenous fluids that will treat over 50,000 patients. Over one million people across the country have been reached by disinfecting water tanker filling stations, chlorinating drinking water, disinfecting groundwater wells, cleaning water storage reservoirs at public and private locations, providing household water treatments and distributing hygiene consumables kits.

© UNICEF/UN065871/Alzekri

Children receive treatment for suspected cholera at Sab’een Hospital in Sana’s, Yemen.

3. Disease and malnutrition

Unsafe water and sanitation can lead to malnutrition or make it worse. “No matter how much food a malnourished child eats, he or she will not get better if the water they are drinking is not safe,” said Manuel Fontaine, UNICEF Director of Emergency Programmes. Unsafe water can cause diarrhoea, which can prevent children from getting the nutrients they need to survive, ultimately leading to malnutrition. Malnourished children are also more vulnerable to waterborne diseases like cholera. Globally, around 2.1 billion people do not have access to safe water.

On 13 March 2017, Zara collects water for use at their home in Bakassi IDP camp, in Maiduguri, the capital of Borno State. Four solar powered boreholes with 10,00 litre overhead storage for each borehole and 60 water taps are servicing 21,000 Internally Displaced Persons from Gwoza, Marte, Monguno LGAs. The prolonged humanitarian crisis in the wake of the Boko Haram insurgency has had a devastating impact on food security and nutrition in northeast Nigeria, leading to famine-like conditions in some areas, according to a World Food Programme (WFP) situation report from late February 2017. The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) projects that by June 2017 some 5.1 million people in Nigeria will be food insecure at crisis and emergency levels. In 2017 in northeast Nigeria, in Borno, Adamawa and Yobe, the three states most directly affected by conflict, 75 per cent of water and sanitation infrastructure in conflict-affected areas has been damaged or destroyed, leaving 3.8 million people with no access to safe water. Displaced families are putting enormous pressure on already strained health and water systems in host communities. With the ongoing disruption to basic services the likelihood of waterborne diseases, such as diarrhoea and cholera, is growing and children are worst hit in such conditions leading to increase malnutrition and mortality. One third of the 700 health facilities in the hardest-hit state of Borno have been completely destroyed and a similar number are non-functional. As at 15 March 2017, over the past 12 months, UNICEF and partners have provided safe water to nearly 666,000 people and treated nearly 170,000 children suffering from severe acute malnutrition in the three conflict-affected northeast Nigerian states of Borno, Yobe and Adamawa. As part of cholera preparedness, UNICEF and other WASH Sector partners are building the capacity of government and NGOs on cholera response and developing contingency plan

© UNICEF/UN057061/Abubakar

Zara collects water for use at her home at the Bakassi camp for internally displaced persons in Maiduguri, Nigeria.

4. Displacement

When fighting or drought force people from their homes, children and families become more vulnerable both to abuses and to health threats. On the move, children often have no choice but to drink unsafe water. Makeshift camps set up without toilets become hotspots for disease outbreak. Children who are already vulnerable are more susceptible to diseases, and are often unable to access hospitals and health centres as they flee. Around 8.3 million people are displaced across the four famine-threatened countries.

A young woman displaced from her home by the worsening drought fills containers with clean water to carry back to her new home in the internally displaced peoples camp in Galkayo, Somalia, Wednesday 12 April 2017. As of April 2017, the humanitarian situation in Somalia continues to deteriorate due to the severe drought, which started in the north in 2016 and is now affecting most of the country. Over 6.2 million people are facing acute food insecurity and 4.5 million people are estimated to be in need of water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) assistance. The situation is especially grave for children. Close to one million children (under five) will be acutely malnourished in 2017, including 185,000 severely malnourished, which may increase to over 270,000 if famine is not averted. Severely malnourished children are nine times more likely to die of killer diseases like cholera / acute watery diarrhea and measles, which are spreading. The drought is also uprooting people, with more than 530,000 displaced since November 2016, adding to the 1.1 million already internally displaced (IDPs). This includes 278,000 new IDPs in the month of March alone, with 72,000 new arrivals in Mogadishu and 70,000 in Baidoa. In addition, the number of people crossing into Kenya is increasing. The rapid scale of displacement increases the risk of family separation and gender-based violence. Children are also dropping out of school, with 50,000 children reported to have stopped going to school, and an additional 40,000 at risk of being forced to interrupt their schooling. The Gu (April-June) rains are slowly unfolding, bringing much needed relief to parts of the country. But the rains also spell danger for children. If they come in full they will inflict further misery on children living in flimsy, makeshift shelters made of twigs and cloth or tarps. If the Gu rains fail, and if assistance doesn’t reach families, more people will be forced off their land into displacement camps. Outbr

© UNICEF/UN061107/Knowles-Coursin

A young woman fills containers with water to carry back to her home in the internally displaced persons camp in Galkayo, Somalia.

How UNICEF is helping

UNICEF is fighting famine by providing safe water to more than 2.5 million people in famine-affected areas.

We are keeping children alive by trucking thousands litres of water to displacement camps daily, supporting hospitals and cholera treatment centres, repairing large water and sanitation systems in cities and much more.

  • In Yemen, UNICEF has reached over 5 million people since the start of the year through a range of life saving activities, including support in operating water supply networks and waste water treatment plans (such as fuel and electricity supply to keep water treatment and pumping stations working), chlorinating water sources, water trucking, distributing hygiene kits, and more.
  • In cholera-affected areas in South Sudan, UNICEF has dug 22 boreholes to reach over 210,000 people with safe water. Across the country, around 207,000 people have gained access to sanitation and 610,000 gained access to safe water.
  • In conflict-affected areas of north-east Nigeria, UNICEF has worked with partners to reach around 845,000 people with safe water. For many WASH offices, this means risking their lives to provide these essential services to people in need.
    In Somalia, 1.66 million people have been given temporary access to safe water, and more than 890,000 have been given hygiene kits which are critical to prevent the spread of disease.