The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) is warning that more than a million children below the age of five in the Sahel are facing a disaster amid the ongoing food crisis in the drought-prone region of Africa.
They are among the some 15 million people estimated to be at risk of food insecurity in countries in the Sahel, including 5.4 million people in Niger, three million in Mali, 1.7 million in Burkina Faso and 3.6 million in Chad, as well as hundreds of thousands in Senegal, the Gambia, and Mauritania, according to UN figures.
The agency noted that it has so far received $24 million against an emergency appeal of $119 million for 2012.
A Multiple Disaster
UNICEF stated that the dry, ‘lean’ season in the affected countries is imminent, and will be marked by rising numbers of children in feeding centres who will need life-saving treatment.
“A multiple disaster is stalking children in the Sahel,” said the agency’s Regional Director, David Gressly.
Even in a best case scenario we are expecting more than a million children suffering from severe and acute malnutrition to enter feeding centres over the next six months.
“More extreme conditions could see the number rise to around 1.5 million, and funding is still not coming at the rate we need to prepare properly,” he added.
UN agencies and their partners have been responding to the food crisis in the Sahel, which is the result of poor rainfall and failed harvests.
The renewed conflict between Government forces and the Tuareg in northern Mali that has uprooted civilians has also increased demand for emergency assistance not only there, but in neighbouring countries that have received refugees.
“The upsurge of fighting in Mali, as well the acute insecurity in northern Nigeria and elsewhere, are complicating the aid operation,” said Gressly.
“Without a good emergency response and a sustained effort to reduce risk in the medium to long term, an entire generation faces a future of dependency, poverty and threatened survival.”
Earlier this month, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) called for $69.8 million in additional funding to prevent a full-blown food and nutrition crisis from unfolding in the Sahel.
*A young mother and with her malnourished child at a screening centre in Gamdji. UN Photo/WFP/Phil Behan