31 August 2012

West Africa: On UN Visit, Basketball Star Pau Gasol Urges Help for Children Affected by Sahel Crisis

Pau Gasol, National Basketball Association (NBA) champion and Goodwill Ambassador for the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF), has wrapped up a trip to Chad by urging continued support for the hundreds of thousands of children affected by the food crisis in West Africa's Sahel region.

"I'm in Chad to remind people that one million children are at risk in the Sahel because of the nutritional crisis and that it is possible to end malnutrition," said Mr. Gasol, a Silver Medalist at the 2012 Olympics, a two-time NBA champion and a UNICEF Spain Ambassador since 2003.

He said that thanks to everyone's help many lives are being saved. At the same time, there are still hundreds of thousands of children who need treatment for malnutrition. "We have to keep the work and momentum going," he stated.

In Chad, more than 127,000 children are at serious risk of severe malnutrition. They fight to survive in the midst of a crisis caused by prolonged drought and rising food prices.

UNICEF has reached more than 335,000 children with nutritional treatment in the Sahel region so far this year, the agency stated in a news release. The goal is to reach 700,000 in the coming months to address the consequences of the crisis, which affects 18 million people in nine countries across the Sahel.

During his visit, Mr. Gasol spent three days in the capital, N'Djamena, and three days in Kanem, where he saw UNICEF projects in Mao and Miouh, the latter a small village where a feeding centre has been opened, a water well has been installed, schools are being supported by training teachers and supplies are being distributed.

In addition, hygiene habits are being promoted while supplies and practical information to prevent diseases such as cholera are being provided.

"It is very important to reach places like Miouh, where families have problems that could not be addressed without the support of organizations like UNICEF," said Mr. Gasol.

In Mao, he visited a UNICEF programme aimed at promoting hygiene habits among children. He refereed a football game and made sure that the children washed their hands after finishing, since this practice prevents deadly diseases.

In N'Djamena, the Goodwill Ambassador met with Chadian ministers to share the idea that sport is "an exceptional tool for the promotion of values, for the development of children and to contribute to the development of their countries."

Chad is the fourth country - after South Africa, Angola and Ethiopia - Mr. Gasol has visited in his role as a UNICEF Ambassador.

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