The World Food Program (WFP) is calling the situation in the Horn of Africa the “highest global humanitarian priority,” with famine in southern Somalia and refugee camps in Kenya overflowing with those fleeing hunger brought by severe drought conditions. One of the consistent threads throughout the reports of devastation has been the drought’s effect on children, especially the very young. According to the UN (via PBS), “2 million young children across the Horn of Africa are malnourished and urgently need lifesaving actions.” Doctors Without Borders estimates that in the refugee camps in Dadaab, Kenya, “37.7 percent of the children between six months and five years old were suffering from global acute malnutrition” along with 43.3 percent of children ages five through ten.
Amidst the raw statistics come heartbreaking stories from those who have traveled on foot, sometimes for weeks, to reach refugee camps or cities, only to find conditions that are just marginally better than where they came from. The Inter Press Service supplied this harrowing account of the situation on the ground:
“Some have told us that some elderly people succumbed and died, while children unable to move, and on the verge of death, were left (behind) to save those who had a chance,” said Mohamed Diriye, a senior official at a local drought support group in Mogadishu.
For those that do survive, the consequences can be lasting and life changing. The long term developmental effects of malnutrition on children can include stunted growth and mental retardation. With the numbers of young children affected by the crisis rises each day, the drought and famine could have a lasting impact on an entire generation in the region. The potential for such far-reaching consequences underscores the dire need not only for immediate emergency aid, but for broader agricultural, economic and political reform for the region.
If you would like to donate to aid organizations working in the Horn of Africa, you can read this earlier post for more information.
Posted by Adam Read-Brown.
Photo credit: UN News Centre