UNICEF issues warning about malnutrition crisis in Africa’s Sahel region

Severe malnutrition affects an estimated 859,000 children living in the Sahel region of Africa.

9 April 2010 – Tens of thousands of children are at risk of severe malnutrition in Niger and neighbouring countries unless donors urgently provide more funds for humanitarian programmes, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) warned today.

Christiane Berthiaume, a spokesperson for the agency in Geneva, told reporters that UNICEF was very concerned that the ongoing drought in much of the Sahel region of Africa has created a food crisis that is jeopardizing the health of the region’s most vulnerable children.

Already an estimated 859,000 children under the age of five in Burkina Faso, Mauritania, Mali, Niger, northern Nigeria and Chad are classified as needing treatment for severe malnutrition, she said.

The Sahel region, an arid belt immediately south of the Sahara Desert, is prone to droughts and creeping desertification. Rates of severe malnutrition are often high.

Ms. Berthiaume stressed that tens of thousands of children in the region are now in situations of extreme distress and that while UNICEF was ready to help them, it does not have the funds it needs to carry out its programmes.

Only half of the $50 million sought by the agency to deal with the crisis has been received so far, she said, adding that the funds are needed as soon as possible because the crisis is expected to peak within the next two months.

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