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Largest Relief Effort Ever to Save Lives in Sahel Region of Africa Averted Major Catastrophe

More than 850,000 Children Treated for Life-Threatening Malnutrition in West and Central Africa, Says UNICEF Report

NEW YORK (December 12, 2012) — More than 850,000 children received lifesaving treatment for severe acute malnutrition across nine countries in the Sahel region of West and Central Africa in 2012, says a report released today by UNICEF. This figure is a projection based on the more than 730,000 children under the age of five treated at clinics in the region between January and the end of September.

This represents the largest humanitarian effort of its kind ever in the region. UNICEF, alongside governments, other UN agencies, and humanitarian organizations mounted the response, with significant support from donors. Last December, UNICEF warned that 1.1 million children would suffer from severe acute malnutrition in the Sahel region and would need specialized help. The countries of Chad, Burkina Faso, The Gambia, Mauritania, Mali, Niger, along with northern Nigeria, northern Cameroon and parts of northern Senegal, had been affected by poor rainfall and failed harvests.

The UNICEF report says that early funding by donors such as USAID, the Swedish and Danish Governments, and the European Union meant crucial supplies of ready-to-use therapeutic food could be purchased in time and pre-positioned. However, there were significant challenges over the course of the year due to people being displaced into neighboring countries because of conflict in Mali, insecurity and severe flooding. To read the full report, visit www.unicefusa.org/sahelprogress.

“With our experience in the region we knew that we would be facing acute challenges in reaching all children,” said Manuel Fontaine, UNICEF’s acting Regional Director. “A major catastrophe was averted. But we should not be complacent because there are still some children dying from avoidable causes.”

“In addition, we may be regularly underestimating the true number of children suffering. All of us have to look seriously at more dynamic solutions to make communities more resilient and better able to cope with multiple shocks,” Fontaine added.

Although the rains appear to be producing better crops in most parts of the area, it can take two years for families to recover from the loss of animals and from having to pay high food prices over an extended period. In addition, malnutrition is a condition that steadily erodes a child’s ability to absorb nutrients even if acceptable food is available.

“Unfortunately, severe acute malnutrition cannot be vaccinated against,” says Fontaine. “Many children from the poorest families in the Sahel may face cycles that will regularly put their lives in jeopardy. A tremendous effort meant we were able to give every child who was able to arrive at a treatment center appropriate care. But we need to get to the state where more robust systems are in place and treatment centers see far fewer children.”

UNICEF has received $134.7 million in funding for its relief efforts in the Sahel out of $239 million requested.


The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) works in 190 countries and territories to save and improve children’s lives, providing health care and immunizations, clean water and sanitation, nutrition, education, emergency relief and more. The U.S. Fund for UNICEF supports UNICEF's work through fundraising, advocacy and education in the United States. Together, we are working toward the day when ZERO children die from preventable causes and every child has a safe and healthy childhood. For more information, visit www.unicefusa.org.

For additional information, please contact:
Susannah Masur, U.S. Fund for UNICEF, 646.428.5010, smasur@unicefusa.org


Map of the Sahel region in Africa

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