Dakar — A UNICEF progress report says that more than 850,000 children are expected to have received life-saving treatment for severe acute malnutrition across nine countries in the Sahel region during the course of 2012.
This is a projected figure based on the more than 730,000 children under 5 treated at centres between January and the end of September.
UNICEF warned in December 2011 that 1.1 million children would suffer from severe acute malnutrition in the Sahel and would need specialized help. With governments, other UN agencies and humanitarian organizations one of the biggest humanitarian efforts of its kind in the region was mounted with support from major donors and funding appeals through UNICEF National Committees.
The report says early funding by donors such as the Swedish and Danish Governments, the European Union and USAID meant crucial supplies of ready-to-use therapeutic food were purchased in good time and pre-positioned. However, there were significant challenges in the year due to people being displaced into neighbouring countries because of conflict in Mali, insecurity and severe flooding.
"With our experience in the region we knew that we would be facing acute challenges in reaching all children," said Manuel Fontaine, UNICEF's acting Regional Director. "A major catastrophe was averted. But we should not be complacent because there were still some children dying from avoidable causes."
"In addition 2012 suggests that we may be regularly underestimating the true number of children suffering. All of us have to look seriously at more dynamic solutions to make communities more resilient and better able to cope with multiple shocks," Fontaine added.
Though the rains appear to be producing better crops in most parts of the sub-region it can take two years for families to recover from the loss of animals and having to pay high prices for food over an extended period. In addition, childhood malnutrition is a condition that steadily erodes the ability to absorb nutrients even if food is available that adults see as acceptable.
"Unfortunately severe acute malnutrition cannot be vaccinated against," says Fontaine. "Many children from the poorest families in the Sahel may face cycles that will regularly put their lives in jeopardy. In 2012 a tremendous effort meant we were able to give every child who was able to arrive at a treatment centre appropriate care. But we need to get to the state where more robust systems are in place and treatment centres see far fewer children."