Africa drought endangers 500,000 children
The lives of half a million children in the Horn of Africa are at risk, international aid agencies said on Friday, as the worst drought in decades forces thousands of people to flee their homes each day.
High food prices and the driest years since the early 1950s have pushed many poor families in Kenya, Somalia, Ethiopia and Djibouti into desperate need, UNICEF said.
"We have over two million children who are malnourished. Half a million of these children are in a life-threatening condition at this stage -- a 50 percent increase over 2009 figures," UNICEF spokesman Marixie Mercado told a news briefing.
Child malnutrition rates in some camps are at least 45 percent, triple the emergency threshold, Mercado said. Child mortality rates are also very high.
"At one camp in Ethiopia it is above the emergency threshold of four deaths per 10,000 children per day and that is also the case in the Turkana district of Kenya," she said.
UNICEF has appealed for $31.9 million to help treat seriously malnourished children across the region over the next three months. It plans to set up child immunization campaigns, especially against measles which can be deadly in unvaccinated children, and provide safe water and better sanitation.
The number of people in need of food assistance across the Horn of Africa region is expected to rise to 10 million from previous forecasts of 6 million, the World Food Programme said.
This is putting pressure on the U.N. agency's $477 million budget for the region, already facing a shortfall of 40 percent.
In Ethiopia, the WFP anticipates 3.5 million people will be hit by the drought and anticipates an equal number of people to have been affected in Kenya by August.
There, the cost of a 90 kg bag of maize rose 160 percent year on year in June to 4,000 shillings ($44), it said.
Drought and fighting have also put about 2.85 million people -- a third of Somalia's population -- in need of humanitarian assistance, WFP spokesman Emilia Casella said.
Photo shows Somali women displaced by severe drought conditions lining up to get food handouts at a centre operated by the government and local NGOs, south of Mogadishu July 7, 2011. Credit: REUTERS/Feisal Omar