7 February 2006

East Africa: Unicef Seeks Aid As Millions Suffer in Drought-Hit Horn of Africa

Eight million people are facing the ravages of drought in the Horn of Africa, including 1.5 million children under the age of five, the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) warned today, appealing for donor assistance to expand its relief efforts in the region.

Rains have largely failed in parts of Ethiopia, Kenya, and Somalia for the past two years and UNICEF is now calling for $16 million to help fund its response to the drought, with its executive director emphasizing that the emergency assistance is needed to help avoid a greater crisis in the months to come.

"There is a potential for widespread disease, greater malnutrition and the displacement of significant numbers of people," said Ann M. Veneman in a statement from New York. "The international community must respond immediately to the need for assistance."

Crop failure and death of livestock significantly contribute to increased malnutrition among children, while measles also pose a threat to children's survival as immunization rates in the affected areas are low, the statement said. Children weakened by malnutrition also face a much higher risk of infection, and measles can spread lethally and quickly among unprotected populations.

Working with governments, the UN World Food Programme (WFP) and partners from non-governmental organizations (NGOs), UNICEF is already supporting feeding programmes in the region. But the agency said its plans to expand these efforts in the next few months will require extra funding.

"These additional resources will allow the agency to move quickly in getting water and other services into the affected areas, including measles immunization campaigns for children and families," the statement said.

The agency also pointed out that the drought is having a long-term impact on education because children are spending so much time searching for food and water that they have no time to attend school. As such, UNICEF concluded that there is no time to lose in getting assistance to those in need.

"The severe drought may not be receiving the same amount of attention as other emergencies. We must act now to save lives," said Ms. Veneman.

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