AFRICA – According to the United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF), children in the Horn of Africa and the vast Sahel region “could die in devastating numbers” without urgent intervention and support as prolonged drought plagues the region.
The United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund has collaborated with strategic health partners to treat more than 1.2 million cases of diarrhea in children under the age of five in the worst drought-hit regions.
In addition, UNICEF is providing life-saving aid and resilient services to children and their families in dire need across the Horn of Africa and the Sahel while initiating schemes aimed at improving access to climate-resilient water, sanitation and hygiene services.
The agency is also partnering with relevant stakeholders to kickstarts public health schemes such as drilling for reliable sources of groundwater and developing the use of solar systems along with identifying and treating children with malnutrition and scaling up prevention services.
United Nations Children’s Fund cautioned that the number of people in Kenya, Ethiopia and Somalia in the Horn of Africa without reliable access to safe water has risen from 9.5 million to 16.2 million in the last five months.
Families across drought-impacted regions are being forced into impossible choices. The only way to stop this crisis is for governments, donors, and the international community to step up funding to meet children’s most acute needs and provide long-term flexible support to break the cycle of crisis.
UNICEF further warned that children in the Sahel region are facing water insecurity, observing that the combination of water scarcity and food crisis has led to the proliferation of severe malnutrition and increased the risk of serious water-borne diseases.
The agency of the United Nations said that drought, conflict and insecurity are driving the water insecurity problem in Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Niger and Nigeria while noting that World Water Week gets underway in the Stockholm.
UNICEF pointed out that in Kenya, over 90 per cent of open water sources such as ponds and open wells in drought-affected areas are either depleted or dried up posing serious risk of disease outbreak, stating that the rapid decline in health conditions will only be heightened by the nascent crisis.
“When water either isn’t available or is unsafe, the risks to children multiply exponentially. Across the Horn of Africa and the Sahel, millions of children are just one disease away from catastrophe,” empathized UNICEF Executive Director Catherine Russell.
The United Nations agency shared recent World Health Organization (WHO) data revealing that 40 million children are facing high to extremely high levels of water vulnerability while more children die as a result of unsafe water and sanitation in the Sahel than in any other part of the world.
“Across the Sahel, water availability has also dropped by more than 40 per cent in the last 20 years. This drastic decline in water resources is largely due to climate change and complex factors such as destructive conflict patterns,” UNICEF highlights.
The agency stressed that the effect of water insecurity facilitated the region’s worst cholera outbreak in the last six years, noting that the cholera outbreak lead to 5,610 confirmed cases and 170 deaths in Central Sahel.
UNICEF emphasized that in Somalia, outbreaks of acute watery diarrhea and cholera have been reported in almost all drought-affected districts, adding that the region is already burdened with 2.8 million malnourished children.
Water vulnerability makes children 11 times more likely to die from water-borne diseases than those who are well nourished, the United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund says.
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