THE BLOG

A Repeat Of Ethiopia Famine Would Be Catastrophic For East Africa's Children

06/04/2017 10:50

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New mother Nyankan and her baby Both have endured much since he was born in Bor, South Sudan. Malnourished since birth, the two-month-old has been getting specialist care at a Unicef supported nutrition clinic in Juba, the country's capital, where he is recovering and putting on weight. "Now, there is a chance my child will survive. I didn't even think my child would be alive by now but I have seen signs of progress so I'm happy," says Nyankan.

I have seen signs of hope like this over my 20 year career in international aid. Sometimes it can feel overwhelming, like there is no solution and nothing can be done, particularly in situations like famine and war. But in Somalia, which experienced famine in 2011, and Ethiopia in 1984, aid literally saved lives and kept families together.

It is now just over a month since famine was declared in South Sudan - the first time in six years that a famine has been declared anywhere in the world. Nearby Somalia is on the brink of famine and across East Africa - in Ethiopia, Kenya and Uganda - children and families are struggling to survive because of lack of nutritious food and water. Our colleagues in the region tell of communities existing on roots and leaves, and drinking water from contaminated ponds that they share with cattle.

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Children are the most vulnerable. There are a staggering 5.5m children malnourished across East Africa, with more than 880,000 children severely malnourished and in need of immediate life-saving food. Without this help one in five of these children could die. Severe malnutrition also affects a child's development and cognitive ability, so the longer we wait to address these children needs, the more their futures are jeopardised. We know, too, from 2011 in Somalia that children didn't die only from starvation. Children will succumb to disease - cholera and measles - as a result of malnutrition weakening their already vulnerable immune systems.

We have a window of opportunity to scale up our help to these children and prevent other countries from being blighted by famine. Our teams are working around the clock to save as many lives as we can as fast as we can. We are working across East Africa - and also in Nigeria and Yemen, which are also facing famine. We are screening children for malnutrition, providing therapeutic food and medical care for the very sick and supplying clean water and basic vaccinations to ensure that children do not succumb to disease. In South Sudan, mobile emergency teams are flying to the remotest and most dangerous corners of the country to get help to children and families who would otherwise go without.

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However, there are challenges. Our appeal for the region currently stands at £436m and has a funding gap of some £272m. Funding shortages are impacting what we can deliver on the ground. Unicef is the sole provider of emergency therapeutic food for emergency work for under-5s in South Sudan. Around 17,000 children are being treated each month, with the number expected to rise as the lean season hits. This aid saves children's lives and we urgently need more funds to guarantee that this lifeline continues.

Nyankan is happy her baby has received treatment, but still worries about her country and other families suffering. "In South Sudan now, people are hungry. Every day is a struggle. There is too much suffering and there is no food. The only people who are eating are the ones being given food from the UN. When I think about the mothers and fathers who are in the villages, I can't imagine how they are surviving."

We rely on the UK public to help us deliver this life-saving aid for children. The suffering that families across East Africa are going through is unacceptable - but with funds we can make a difference and save more lives. You can donate here www.unicef.org.uk/donate/east-africa

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