News: UNICEF Exec. Director visits drought-stricken Somali region; calls for urgent response to save lives of millions of children

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Photo: UNICEF

Addis Abeba – After a four-day visit to Ethiopia, UNICEF Executive Director Catherine Russell called for a rapid scale-up of support to prevent a humanitarian disaster due to the drought in Ethiopia and the region.

The director stressed that the effect of the drought in Ethiopia is devastating, and said, “In the Somali region, one of the worst-hit drought areas in the country, I met children and families who have literally lost everything. Their livestock have died and as a result, they have no source of income. They cannot feed their children and are on the move in search of food and water. We need to reach these families now before it is too late.”

The UNICEF press release on the executive director’s visit to the Somali region noted that four countries across the Horn of Africa; Djibouti, Ethiopia, Kenya, and Somalia are experiencing one of the worst droughts in decades leaving 10 million children in need of urgent life-saving support.

The presser further highlighted the worsening of malnutrition in children ‘at an alarming rate.’ It also stated that 1.7 million children are severely malnourished across the subregion, adding that admission rates for treatment of severe acute malnutrition for children under 5, in drought-affected areas, were 15 percent higher in February 2022 compared to February 2021 in Ethiopia. 

The executive director explained that the lack of clean water has further exacerbated the situation of children and women, “Children are forced to drink contaminated water, and this puts them at risk of cholera and other killer diseases. In Somali region, we have had reports of over 1,000 cases of measles with 16 confirmed deaths.”  

Further detailing the impact of drought on children, she noted that in some drought-hit areas in Ethiopia, there has been a 51 percent increase in child marriage.  “Child marriage often increases in times of drought as families marry off their daughters in the hope that they will be better fed and protected, as well as to earn dowries,” she said. 

As part of its immediate response, UNICEF Ethiopia is rehabilitating and installing boreholes, emergency water trucking, treating severely malnourished children, and providing education and child protection support, investing in climate-resilient solar-powered water systems for long-term sustainable solutions aiming to reach an estimated 3.4 million people, including 1.4 million children, the statement said. 

The director commenced the contribution of donors but reiterated the need to ramp up support to save the lives of millions of children. “We have to remember that behind every statistic, there is a child with the same hopes and dreams as children everywhere – and the same right to reach their full potential,” she said. She also reaffirmed the long-standing partnership with UNICEF and the Ethiopian government during her meetings with  President Sahle-Work Zewde and Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister, Demeke Mekonnen, the statement said. Dispatch