UNICEF report warns half a million children could starve in Ethiopia

8th July 2016

Photos, BROLL video and report available for download here: http://uni.cf/29w1son

Major new UNICEF report shows:

DUBLIN/NAIROBI/NEW YORK, July 8, 2016 – The 2015-2016 El Niño has ended but its devastating impact on children is worsening, as hunger, malnutrition and disease continue to increase following the severe droughts and floods spawned by the event, one of the strongest on record, UNICEF said in a major new report today.

The report, It’s not over – El Niño’s impact on children, warns of a strong chance that La Niña – El Niño’s opposite weather pattern – could strike later in the year, further exacerbating the severe humanitarian crisis that is currently affecting millions of children in some of the most vulnerable communities.

Children in affected areas are going hungry. In Eastern and Southern Africa – the worst hit regions – some 26.5 million children need support, including more than one million who need treatment for severe acute malnutrition.

Ethiopia is one of the countries worst affected by this crisis. This week United Nations Special Envoy for El Nino and climate Mary Robinson visited Ethiopia to see for herself the scale of the crisis. In the past six months, severe drought has hit the region. Two seasons of failed rains left 10.2 million people, including 6 million children facing severe food insecurity. A significant lack of safe water brings a heightened risk from disease.

These climate events are being caused, or exacerbated, by El Niño weather, and it isn’t only Ethiopians who are struggling to cope.

Elsewhere in Eastern Africa, conditions are becoming unbearable in Eritrea and Somalia. While in Southern Africa, Angola, Lesotho, Madagascar, Malawi, Mozambique, Swaziland, and Zimbabwe are all struggling. UNICEF is on the ground in all of these areas.

UNICEF Ireland Executive Director Peter Power says he is acutely worried about developments on the African continent: “Some 500,000 children under 5 need treatment for severe acute malnutrition – in other words they are starving. And it could get an awful lot worse.”

“Millions of children and their communities need support in order to survive. They need help to prepare for the eventuality La Niña will exacerbate the humanitarian crisis. And they need help to step up disaster risk reduction and adaptation to climate change, which is causing more intense and more frequent extreme weather events,” said UNICEF’s Director of Emergency Programs, Afshan Khan. “The same children who are affected by El Niño and threatened by La Niña, find themselves on the frontlines of climate change.”

If La Nina – El Niño’s opposite weather system – arrives as expected in late Summer/early Autumn, it will bring with it opposite weather impacts for people. Those who have already experienced drought this year might now face floods. La Niña tends to be less damaging than its counterpart, but can have a devastating impact on communities already left extremely vulnerable by El Niño.

In many countries, already strained resources, have reached their limits, and affected families have exhausted their coping mechanisms – such as selling off assets and skipping meals. Unless more aid is forthcoming, including urgent nutritional support for young children, decades of development progress could be eroded.

El Niño has also affected access to safe water, and has been linked to increases in diseases such as dengue fever, diarrhoea and cholera, which are major killers of children. In South America, and particularly Brazil, El Niño has created favourable breeding conditions for the mosquito that can transmit Zika, dengue, yellow fever and chikungunya.  If La Niña does develop, it could contribute to the spread of the Zika virus to areas that have not been affected to date.

UNICEF also said there are serious concerns that Southern Africa, the global epicentre of the AIDS pandemic, could see an increased transmission of HIV as a result of El Niño’s impact. Lack of food affects access to anti-retroviral therapy (ART), as patients tend not to take treatment on an empty stomach, and many people will use their limited resources for food rather than transport to a health facility. Drought can also force adolescent girls and women to engage in transactional sex to survive. And, mortality for children living with HIV is two to six times higher for those who are severely malnourished than for those who are not.

We are on the ground in each of the ten affected African countries where more than one million children are at risk of starvation.  These children need urgent assessment, nutrient-enriched milk and food supplements and monitoring.

In addition to nutrition and water, children have health, hygiene, child protection and education needs that we are working to fulfil in all of the affected regions of the world.  Visit our website to support our appeal.

UNICEF Ireland’s Executive Director Peter Power is available for interview.

ENDS

NOTES FOR EDITORS

Photos, BROLL video from affected regions and the report here: http://uni.cf/29w1son

About UNICEF

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For more information, please contact:

Aedín Donnelly, Communications and Media Manager for UNICEF Ireland aedin@unicef.ie| Tel: +353 1 809 0281 | Mob: +353 85 1395272

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