Urgent Action Needed For One Million Children in the Sahel

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As malnutrition reaches emergency levels across the Sahel region of West and Central Africa with at least one million children at risk of death, UNICEF’s Executive Director Anthony Lake called for an urgent escalation of humanitarian efforts to stop the crisis and the cycle of disasters during a visit to the region. UNICEF needs more than $60 million for immediate relief operations to save children’s lives and prevent a humanitarian disaster from unfolding.

As malnutrition reaches emergency levels across the Sahel region of West and Central Africa with at least one million children at risk of death, UNICEF’s Executive Director Anthony Lake called for an urgent escalation of humanitarian efforts to stop the crisis and the cycle of disasters during a visit to the region. UNICEF needs more than $60 million for immediate relief operations to save children’s lives and prevent a humanitarian disaster from unfolding.

“Families and children have been weakened from the drought in 2010 and 2005. Now there is growing insecurity in a number of countries with hundreds of thousands of people displaced, rising food prices, and a bad harvest,” said Lake during a visit to western Chad yesterday.

“Children find it harder now to bounce back and resist other health threats like polio, measles, meningitis, and cholera,” he added. “The people of the Sahel are on the edge of a perfect storm with one million children at risk.”

In preparation, UNICEF has set up hundreds of nutritional rehabilitation centers across all eight countries of the Sahel belt, where an estimated 15 million people are affected by the drought. During the months of January and February, tens of thousands of children were treated for severe acute malnutrition at nutritional rehabilitation centers that are filling up fast with the start of the “lean season”—the period between harvests that is traditionally the worst time of the year in a harsh environment with difficult logistics.

UNICEF has received only half of the $120 million that it needs to save the lives of children and women suffering from the impact of multiple threats—poor harvests because of drought, high food prices and insecurity in parts of the Sahel. This week UNICEF launched a mass social media campaign, #SahelNOW, to raise awareness about the plight of children in the Sahel and trigger action from donors and governments.

In Chad UNICEF has set up 261 nutrition rehabilitation centers in coordination with the Ministry of Health and has plans to double the number in the next two months. Chad has the highest numbers of polio cases in Africa and is second only in the world to Pakistan for the disease. Chad is also currently dealing with a meningitis outbreak.

UNICEF sees the current crisis as a new opportunity to tackle the underlying causes of chronically high malnutrition in the Sahel by helping governments and communities build robust health systems, social services, social protection and support for sustainable livelihoods.

“This is not just about saving lives today. It’s about preventing new emergencies tomorrow with the right kind of nutrition at the right time, especially for children under three, and it’s about boosting robust health systems so that we can prevent another tragic emergency and children do not have to end up in nutrition centers,” Lake said.

“These are landlocked countries with tough climates and geography against them. They need help before and after these crises,” he added.

How to help: For more information or to make a tax-deductible contribution please contact the U.S. Fund for UNICEF:
Website: http://www.unicefusa.org/sahel
Toll free: 1-800-FOR-KIDS
Mail: 125 Maiden Lane, 10th Floor, New York, NY 10038
As with any emergency, in the event that donations exceed anticipated needs, USF will redirect any excess funds to children in greatest need.

B-roll and photos of Lake’s visit are available at http://www.thenewsmarket.com/unicef

About UNICEF
UNICEF has saved more children's lives than any other humanitarian organization in the world. Working in more than 150 countries, UNICEF provides children with health care, clean water, nutrition, education, emergency relief, and more. The U.S. Fund for UNICEF supports UNICEF's work through fundraising, advocacy, and education in the United States.

UNICEF is at the forefront of efforts to reduce child mortality worldwide. There has been substantial progress: the annual number of under-five deaths dropped from more than 12 million in 1990 to 7.6 million in 2010. But still, 21,000 children die each day from preventable causes. Our mission is to do whatever it takes to make that number zero by giving children the essentials for a safe and healthy childhood. For more information, visit http://www.unicefusa.org.

For additional information, please contact:
Susannah Masur, U.S. Fund for UNICEF, 212.880.9146, smasur(at)unicefusa(dot)org
Kiní Schoop, U.S. Fund for UNICEF, 212.922.2634, kschoop(at)unicefusa(dot)org

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Susannah Masur
U.S. Fund for Unicef
212-880-9146
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