ADDIS ABABA – UNICEF Executive Director Catherine Russell urged the international community to scale up support to avert a humanitarian catastrophe due to the drought in Ethiopia and the rest of the Horn of Africa.
“The impact of the drought in Ethiopia is devastating,” said Russell at the end of a four-day visit to the country on Thursday.
The executive director visited one of the worst hit drought areas in in Somali region, and met children and families who, she said, “have literally lost everything due to the drought.”
“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,” Russell continued, “We need to reach these families now before it is too late.”
Due to three failed consecutive rainy seasons, four countries across the Horn of Africa are experiencing one of the worst droughts in decades.
Overall, in Djibouti, Ethiopia, Kenya and Somalia, 10 million children need urgent life-saving support.
The drought is pushing up malnutrition for children and their families at an alarming rate.
Overall, 1.7 million children are severely malnourished across the Horn of Africa.
In Ethiopia, Unicef says admission rates for treatment of severe acute malnutrition for children under 5, in drought affected areas, was 15 per cent higher in February 2022 compared to February 2021.
“Not only are we facing a malnutrition crisis, the lack of clean water is also further exacerbating the situation of children and women,” said Russell. “Children are forced to drink contaminated water, and this puts them at risk of cholera and other killer diseases.”
“In Somali region,” she said, “we have had reports of over 1,000 cases of measles with 16 confirmed deaths.”
But it is not only malnutrition and disease that are threatening the lives of children.
Over 600,000 children in drought hit regions have dropped out of school as a result of the drought.
Schools have shut due to lack of water, and many children drop out because they have to travel long distances in search of food and water, or to look after other children while their caregivers try and find water for their families and cattle.
“Travelling long distances exposes children to many risks, including child marriage,” said Russell.
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. “In some drought-hit areas in Ethiopia, there has been a 51 per cent increase in child marriage,” Unicef’s chief said.
In response, UNICEF Ethiopia is targeting an estimated 3.4 million people, including 1.4 million children, as part of our immediate response, and is rehabilitating and installing boreholes, emergency water trucking, treating severely malnourished children and providing education and child protection support.
“While we appreciate the generous support of donors, we must do more to save the lives of millions of children,” said Russell. “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.”