UNICEF and partners race against time as Horn of Africa crisis worsens 

UNICEF and partners race against time as Horn of Africa crisis worsens

History is repeating itself in the Horn of Africa. Images of severely malnourished children – and of people walking great distances across parched earth in search of food and water – haunt the public conscience. A combination of drought, conflict and soaring food prices is turning deadly for the region’s most vulnerable children and families. Report by Priyanka Pruthi

VIDEO: 27 July 2011 – UNICEF Deputy Director of Emergency Programmes Dermot Carty talks about the organization’s response to the worsening crisis in the Horn of Africa, which results from a combination of drought, conflict and soaring food prices.

Women and children in Mogadishu
Women and children in Mogadishu, the capital of Somalia, hold containers at a water-distribution point in a camp for people displaced by drought. UNICEF Image © UNICEF/NYHQ2011-1203/Holt

As the crisis goes from bad to worse, it requires unprecedented action. Last week, a famine was declared in the southern Bakool and Lower Shabelle regions of Somalia. Over 11 million people still desperately need humanitarian assistance.

Reaching out to displaced, refugee and drought-affected populations is a daunting challenge for aid organizations. The race to save lives is a race against time.

“For UNICEF, the crisis in the Horn of Africa is a priority,” said UNICEF Deputy Director of Emergency Programmes Dermot Carty. “The whole organization is focused on this and calling on all the resources that the organization can bring to bear from a global level.”

‘A very bad situation’

Mr. Carty noted that staff in the affected countries are working to deliver water, sanitation and hygiene services, as well as nutrition, child protection and education.

“We have been warning for many years that the situation is especially fragile there,” he said. “Take the weather conditions, multiply that by the on-going conflict, add in the problems associated with rising food prices because of food shortages. You have a very bad situation.”

UNICEF is taking a holistic approach in its response to the emergency by rapidly scaling up action in all of the areas noted above. It is also focusing on child health, including immunization for preventable diseases such as like measles.

A woman holds her sick baby and a prescription for oral rehydration salts
A woman holds her sick baby and a prescription for oral rehydration salts for the child, who has diarrhoea, at a temporary health clinic in the Wardhiglay area of Mogadishu, the capital of Somalia. UNICEF Image © UNICEF/NYHQ2011-1189/Holt

“In the areas where access, for security reasons, is especially difficult, we implement our interventions in partnership with local civil society or NGO-based organizations,” explained Mr. Carty.

Overwhelming needs

Over the next two months, UNICEF aims to reach 300,000 families in conflict-torn Somalia alone – including 360,000 children under the age of five.

Exhausted by more than two decades of civil war, the people of Somalia, sick with hunger, are now fleeing to refugee camps across the border in Ethiopia and Kenya. Their needs are overwhelming.

But despite the urgency of the crisis, UNICEF still faces a funding gap. Its total requirements for the emergency response in the Horn of Africa now stand at an estimated $300 million through the end of 2011. Though significant contributions have come from many governments – and from private donors, through UNICEF’s National Committees – a shortfall of over $200 million remains.

Life-saving assistance

Badbado camp in Mogadishu, Somalia
Children and women queue for a food distribution in the Badbado camp in Mogadishu, Somalia. The camp shelters almost 30,000 people who have been displaced from drought-affected rural areas.UNICEF Image © UNICEF/NYHQ2011-1182/Holt

“I think we need to continually focus on what the issue is,” said Mr. Carty. “Children are dying, and will continue to die unless we make sufficient interventions in the immediate short term through the delivery of humanitarian assistance.”

He added: “You and I enjoy the privilege of having three meals on the table every day. We don’t even think about it. You and I can turn on the tap every day and get a glass of clean water – great! The children of Somalia would give their right arm to have a glass of water a day and have a nutritional meal a day, and they have the right to that.”

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