By ChildFund International

Malnourished child in Kenya - under fives are very vulnerable to food shortages

In eastern Africa, the worst drought since the 1950s has swept 10 million people into a cascade of effects that threaten their survival. Countries affected include three where ChildFund works: Kenya, Uganda and Ethiopia, as well as Somalia and Djibouti.

The region’s children suffer the most.

This year, the area’s rainfall average was less than one-third of the average from the last 15 years. In Kenya, the rains began as usual at the end of March … and then stopped after one short week. “The emergency situation in Kenya’s pastoral Turkana is worrisome,” says Paul Ekwom, ChildFund’s monitoring and evaluation manager there. “All the alternative livelihood means have been depleted after a long spell of drought, for three consecutive years. Domestic animals are dying, and water points have dried up.”

In some areas, families and children are forced to walk as far as 9 miles to the nearest water source.

Throughout the region, harvests will be delayed or below normal. Food prices have soared — in Uganda, as much as 40 to 50 percent, which means that families living in poverty can’t access whatever food is available at market.

People leave their homes to search far and wide for food — or for short-term, stop-gap work for quick money to buy food.

Children interrupt their educations to follow their parents — or because their stomachs are empty as families must cut their number of daily meals. “Learning at all education levels has been disrupted,” says Ekwom of the situation in Kenya. “Malnutrition rates are very high, at 37 percent moderate and almost 10 percent severe. People are looking to the aid agencies for help.”

A sizeable number of under-5 children in Ethiopia are also malnourished.

For the youngest children, who are at their most delicate developmental stage, malnutrition makes them more susceptible to childhood illnesses. Their mothers can’t work, which depletes household income, which may force families to sell off their livestock or other productive assets.

Meanwhile, as many as 1,300 Somali refugees a day continue to flow into Kenya’s and Ethiopia’s already bursting refugee camps. The largest, Dadaab in Kenya, is at more than quadruple its capacity, with 380,000 people.

Working with communities and governmental partners in all three countries, ChildFund is mobilizing to help.

At this early stage, monitoring and assessing needs is key. Uganda is not yet at crisis levels but is being carefully watched, and ChildFund is reinforcing links with government and other partners there. ChildFund is also assessing the situation in Ethiopia and is poised to provide immediate supplementary food support.

In Kenya, the hardest hit of the three, early childhood development centres have been stocked with nutritional supplements. ChildFund is also partnering with the World Food Programme to provide food aid in affected areas there. Looking ahead, ChildFund is preparing to step up its ongoing supplementary feeding, water and sanitation and health and nutrition efforts, and strengthening its partnership with UNICEF to review food needs and provide psychosocial services to affected children.

Help is arriving from many angles — but the greatest challenge of all is funding these efforts. Make a difference now and help ChildFund help the children of the Horn of Africa.

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