Horn of Africa braces for high child mortality as food crisis deepens

The scientist insisted that “if the world does not look away from the war in Ukraine and act immediately, child mortality is about to occur in the Horn of Africa.” Rania Daghash, UNICEF Deputy Regional Director for Eastern and Southern Africa, at a regular United Nations press conference in Geneva.

“Focusing on Ukraine should not lead to neglect of other crises and ultimately more loss of life,” she said, noting that only a third of the $250 million needed to avert disaster has been met so far.

The lives of the most vulnerable are already threatened by malnutrition and starvation

After four consecutive seasons of lack of rainfall, the situation is worrying in the Horn of Africa. Somalia has 386,000 children who need urgent treatment for life-threatening malnutrition.

These numbers now exceed 340,000 children who needed treatment at the time of the 2011 famine, Ms. Dagash added, adding that across Ethiopia, Kenya and Somalia, more than 1.7 million children are in dire need of treatment for severe acute malnutrition.

More broadly, “Children’s lives in the Horn of Africa are also at risk due to the war in Ukraine.” Somalia alone imported 92% of its wheat from Russia and Ukraine, but supply lines are now disrupted.

Victims of the climate crisis

According to UNICEF, the war is worsening global food and fuel prices. This means that many people in Ethiopia, Kenya and Somalia can no longer afford the basic foodstuffs they need to survive.

But on the ground, donor funding has been generous but less than the $250 million needed. “We only have a third of what we need this year. We call on the international community, led by the G7 meeting in Germany in a few weeks, to allocate new additional funds to save lives,” Ms. Dagash said.

UNICEF is also urging G7 leaders to commit to acting quickly in future emergencies and to invest in long-term resilience activities, such as nutrition, water, education and money transfer programmes. “Somali children are currently living on the front lines of the climate crisis – and this will not end – we need a meaningful shift from the donor community to adequately support families during these periodic climate shocks,” said the UNICEF chief.



© UNICEF/Omid Fadel

Rania Dagash, UNICEF Deputy Regional Director for Eastern and Southern Africa, (left) meets a malnourished mother and twin at a health center in Dolo, Somalia.

Don’t wait for a famine declaration to act

Faced with this alarming situation in the Horn of Africa, the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and other UN agencies have responded by allocating limited resources to famine prevention interventions. Partners, authorities and communities intensified their activities, reorienting responses towards famine prevention and targeting the most vulnerable people in areas of greatest need.

FAO helps rural families by providing cash transfers to purchase basic necessities such as food, water and medicine, as well as subsistence items. It also provides information and analysis on food security and water monitoring through the Food Security and Nutrition Analysis Unit and the Somalia Water and Information Management Programs.

For the World Food Program (WFP), the world must not wait for the official declaration of famine to act quickly and on a large scale – because then it will be too late. Hundreds of thousands of lives are already at risk. “Immediate action is needed to avert a humanitarian catastrophe,” said Al-Khader Dalum, WFP representative in Somalia.

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