The welcome announcement of an end to famine conditions in South Sudan this week should not distract from the fact that severe food insecurity continues to put the lives of millions of children at risk in north-east Nigeria, Somalia, South Sudan and Yemen, UNICEF warned today.
“There is no room for complacency,” said Manuel Fontaine, UNICEF Director for Emergency Programmes. “While famine has been reversed in South Sudan, the lives of millions of children are still hanging by a thread. The crisis is far from over and we must continue to scale up our response and insist on unconditional humanitarian access, otherwise the progress made could be rapidly undone.”
In all four countries the situation continues to be of the highest concern and the number of children at imminent risk of death remains alarming.
In north-east Nigeria, Boko Haram violence continues to contribute to large-scale population displacement, limit market activity and restrict normal livelihoods. Around 5.2 million people remain severely food insecure, with 450,000 children expected to suffer from severe acute malnutrition this year. The start of the rainy season will further complicate the humanitarian response, with deteriorating road conditions and flooding making populations harder to reach, and raising the risk of water-borne diseases.
In Somalia a fragile population, battered by decades of conflict, have been further exposed by prolonged drought conditions. It is estimated up to 275,000 children will suffer from severe acute malnutrition in 2017, making them nine times more likely to die of killer diseases such as cholera, acute water diarrhoea and measles, which are spreading through the country.
In South Sudan, the number of people struggling to find enough food each day has grown to six million, the highest level of food insecurity ever experienced in South Sudan. This year, almost 276,000 children are estimated to be severely malnourished and in need of immediate life-saving aid. Famine has eased after a significant scale up in the humanitarian response, according to new analysis released this week, however the situation remains dire across the country.
And in Yemen, where almost 400,000 children are estimated to be severely malnourished, an unprecedented cholera outbreak, with over 175,000 suspected cases and more than 1,000 deaths to date, has complicated the ongoing humanitarian response. Some of the children who have become ill or died from cholera were already suffering from malnutrition, weakening their immune system. The health system is on the brink of collapse, with hospitals and treatment centres struggling to cope and medicines and medical supplies quickly running out. Famine is possible in a worst-case scenario as the conflict continues.
Beyond these four countries, food, water and health crises are endangering hundreds of thousands of children across the Greater Horn of Africa, the Lake Chad Basin and the Sahel.
This year, UNICEF is working with partners to provide therapeutic and life-saving food treatment to over 314,000 severely malnourished children in Nigeria, over 200,000 severely malnourished children in South Sudan, more than 200,000 severely malnourished children in Somalia, and 320,000 children in Yemen.
UNICEF is also restoring and equipping health facilities, developing medical and nutritional supply pipelines and providing clean and safe water to vulnerable children and families. In Somalia, 1.8 million people have been reached with safe water, and in Nigeria over 2.6 million people will be reached with a basic supply of clean water this year.
In Nigeria, Somalia, South Sudan and Yemen UNICEF requires US$251 million to provide children with food, water, health, education and protection services until the end of the year.