Dakar/Geneva — Appealing today for funding, UNICEF said today nearly a quarter of a million children under 5 suffering from severe acute malnutrition received life-saving treatment in the Sahel during the first four months of the year as part of its emergency response in the region.
The agency forecast that over the course of the year at least 1.1 million children would need to be treated and has increased to 5,200 the number of specialist treatment centres established to cope with the crisis in nine countries. The biggest upsurge in children needing help will be over the coming three months because the region is now in the driest and harshest period of the year.
Continuing conflict in Mali, which has forced 170,000 people from their homes and into three neighbouring countries, is creating new demands and problems in ensuring secure aid access. Another 167,000 have been displaced within the country.
UNICEF said it urgently needed more funds for children and women suffering from extreme hardship in the Sahel region of Africa, under threat from diseases such as cholera and victims of the crisis displacing people from Mali. For the rest of 2012 UNICEF needs $146 million for the Sahel.
So far emergency appeals have secured $93 million for UNICEF's emergency response.
"There is no doubt the money given earlier this year has helped us considerably to be prepared and save lives," said UNICEF Regional Director for West and Central Africa Manuel Fontaine.
"Across the Sahel we are dealing with multiple needs to save lives and help children, and the Mali crisis has only put more children in danger. So far we have received money primarily for the immediate nutrition response. But the lack of funds for other vital work prevents us from doing all that we can for children and their parents in what is their time of greatest need," he said.
UNICEF is aiming for an integrated response that takes into consideration the most pressing needs.
Children in northern Mali are very clearly at risk in terms of abuse, access to education and recruitment into armed groups. Education support needs to be given across the nine countries affected by the nutrition crisis because children from distressed communities are dropping out of school.
Vaccination campaigns must be conducted to prevent epidemics. So far this year, more than 6 million children have been vaccinated against measles and more than 9 million have received a treated bed net to reduce the risk of malaria. Measures need to be put in place before the rains to prevent outbreaks of cholera. The disease is endemic in many areas affected by the crisis.
The United Nations says about 18 million people are affected by a drought and food crisis in the nine countries. UNICEF in December 2011 warned that between 1 and 1.5 million children would need life-saving treatment for severe acute malnutrition and appealed for $119.5 million.
With the outbreak of fighting in Mali, the agency asked for $19 million to meet immediate needs for those displaced in the country and the refugees in Mauritania, Burkina Faso and Niger.
Reflecting the need for a fully integrated response, the new total requirements for UNICEF of $238 million for 2012 takes into account the need for the nutrition crisis, the Mali emergency and responding to the threat of cholera and other epidemics.
The Sahel nutrition crisis and UNICEF's emergency response covers the entire territories of Burkina Faso, Gambia (which was included earlier this year), Mali, Mauritania and Niger; the Sahel belt of Chad and the northern regions of Cameroon, Nigeria and Senegal.