Sound the Alarm – UNICEF is raising HK$940 million globally to save over 1 million at-risk children in the Sahel region

Sound the Alarm – UNICEF is raising HK$940 million globally to save over 1 million at-risk children in the Sahel region

Tsahara Saidou holds her two-year-old son, Moctar, who is suffering from severe acute malnutrition, as they return to their home village of Garin Kouroun, Maradi Region. They have just visited the UNICEF-supported health centre in the village of Sarkin Yamma Saboua, approximately six kilometres from Garin Kouroun, in Madarounfa Department. [#5 IN SEQUENCE OF FIVE]

In March 2012 in Niger, under-five mortality rates remain among the highest in the world, the result of preventable or treatable conditions, including malnutrition. The country is one of eight in the Sahel region  also including Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania and the northern parts of Cameroon, Nigeria and Senegal  facing a nutrition crisis that now affects over 10 million people. Unless reached with appropriate treatment and prevention programmes, more than 1 million under-five children are at risk of dying from nutrition-related illnesses. The current crisis is the result of repeated drought-related food shortages, from which people have insufficient time to recover before being again affected. In turn, these shocks are exacerbated by chronic stunting, high rates of poverty and illiteracy and inadequate social infrastructure, including for basic child and maternal care. In Niger, over 331,000 under-five children are at risk of becoming severely malnourished, while cases of moderate acute malnutrition are expected to exceed 689,000. Over 5.4 million people  some 35 per cent of the countrys population  remain food insecure. Stunting prevalence is above 50 per cent; over 62 per cent of the population lives in poverty, and the adult literacy rate is a low 20 per cent  only 12.3 per cent for women. UNICEF requires US$120 million to fund its Sahel emergency response in 2012, of which only 32 per cent has been received to date. The European Union (EU) is one of the largest international donors to UNICEF nutrition programmes in the Sahel and in other regions. In Niger, working with the Government and other partners, UNICEF is currently assisting over 37,000 under-five children suffering from severe acute malnutrition, with plans to reach 394,000. Support includes the provision of ready-to-use therapeutic food (a high-protein, high-energy peanut-based packaged paste for malnourished children that does not require cooking or handling). Plans are also underway to provide blanket feeding support for an additional 530,000 children aged 623 months and for 97,000 pregnant or lactating women during the lean season  from April through October  when food scarcity is greatest. UNICEF is also assisting other health, water, sanitation and hygiene, education and child protection initiatives.
4 April 2012

While an end to famine conditions was declared in Somalia, another nutrition crisis has begun to unfold in eight countries across West Africa. In the Sahel region, more than 1 million children are now in danger of dying from severe acute malnutrition. UNICEF has launched a global fundraising campaign in Hong Kong, United Kingdom, Australia and other countries to raise around HK$940 million (US$120 million) to scale up the humanitarian action and help the vulnerable children. UNICEF Executive Director, Anthony Lake, is also visiting Chad, one of eight countries in the Sahel.

Over 15 million people in Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Chad, Mali, Mauritania, Niger, Nigeria and Senegal are directly affected by the crisis. The region has already been weakened by successive emergencies, including the droughts in 2005 and 2010, and many families were forced to sell their livestock, pull children out of school, borrow money and get by with less food. Five countries of the region (Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania and Niger) have declared a crisis and called for international assistance.

UNICEF has been preparing for the last seven months to meet the extreme needs in the Sahel. Ready-to-use therapeutic food has been dispatched for the treatment of severe acute malnutrition among children under five to all eight affected countries.

But to feed over 1 million severely acute malnourished children under age 5, UNICEF estimated around HK$940 million (US$120 million) is needed, but only 32 per cent of that need has been met so far. If appropriate response is not able to be mounted, UNICEF estimates the total number of severely malnourished children could reach up to 1.4 million. While racing to immediate needs, UNICEF is also preparing to strengthen the long-term resilience of the children of the Sahel.

Anthony Lake, UNICEF Executive Director is having a three-day visit to Chad to meet with vulnerable communities. Facing the triple shock of drought, high food prices and instability, UNICEF calculates that at least 127,000 children under the age of five are at high risk of dying. The country is also dealing with a large-scale polio outbreak. There were more than 130 cases in 2011, the highest in Africa.

On the other hand, Christopher Tidey, UNICEF Communication Specialist is in Niger this week in support of emergency relief, and will be tweeting live from the field.

“Though we are miles away from the Sahel, we can still join the life-saving effort and avert the nutrition crisis before it turns to another famine,’ said Ms Irene Chan, Chief Executive of Hong Kong Committee for UNICEF, “With just HK$12, less than what we spend on a meal, we can treat a malnourished child a day of therapeutic food and – save a life.” Hong Kong people can simply visit our donation page or call on 2833 6139 to make their generous support. They can also get the updates of the crisis by following Christopher ontwitter.