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Horn of Africa: 40,000 children face death

Despite rains, 40,000 children face death in drought-stricken Horn of Africa, UN warns

Some 40,000 children in the Horn of Africa are facing the “very real” prospect of a slow death by starvation in the months ahead in one of the world’s most inhospitable regions where, despite recent rains, a two-year drought has already killed half the livestock, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) warned today.

“Food shortage has always been a fact of life in this tough region,” UNICEF Deputy Executive Director Rima Salah said in launching the Agency’s new multimedia report – Child Alert: Crisis in the Horn of Africa – which called for relief efforts to adapt to the nomadic way of the drought-stricken pastoralists, especially in Kenya, Somalia and Ethiopia.

The report comes just days after UNICEF announced that it faced a $54-million shortfall in its $80-million appeal to scale up its operations in the region where 8,780,000 people, 4,445,000 of them children, are seriously affected by the drought.

“To help them ride out the regular crises, we need to think like pastoralists, rather than insisting that they adapt to the fixed location services usually offered to them,” Ms. Salah said. “If people can live and raise cattle in desert zones in the other parts of the world, they can do so in the Horn. They’ve been doing it for thousands of years.”

UNICEF, other UN agencies and partners in the region have already begun adapting programmes to better suit the pastoralist way of life. Two examples are mobile therapeutic feeding centres for young children and the funding and training of teachers who can travel with families as they move throughout the region searching for water and food for their herd.

Principle points raised by the Child Alert include:

• Some 40,000 children are so malnourished that they face the prospect of death in the months ahead.

• Rainfall, when it came, actually worsened the crisis in many areas, killing livestock, bringing malaria and other diseases, washing away young crops, and polluting scarce water sources.

• The vast majority of affected children are those of the huge pastoralist community of the Horn of Africa.

• The repetitive cycle of crises in the region can be broken with consistent access to mobile services that support the pastoralist way of life.

In the past few years, the region has been drained by increasingly severe drought. In 2000, almost 100,000 people died. The vast majority of those affected are the 16 million nomadic pastoralists who straddle the borderlands between Kenya, Somalia and Ethiopia. Around half of those have been seriously affected and are in need of assistance, including 1.6 million children under five.

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