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UNICEF and partners race to prevent second wave of death in the Horn of Africa

NEW YORK (October 28, 2011) — One hundred days since famine was declared in parts of southern Somalia, UNICEF and its partners are doing their utmost to prevent a second and potentially more devastating wave of deaths from disease against a background of conflict.

"The current rains will bring some relief to drought-affected areas in Somalia and neighboring countries. However, they also increase the risk of disease outbreaks and hamper the distribution of aid," said Elhadj As Sy, UNICEF's Regional Director for Eastern and Southern Africa.

“Escalating fighting across the South of Somalia is also making it even more difficult for our partners to safely deliver lifesaving support to children and their families."

As Sy said these factors could aggravate the humanitarian crisis in Somalia and the region. "UNICEF will expand its efforts to reach children wherever they are and minimize the impact of the deteriorating situation. We appeal to our donors to ramp up their invaluable support," he added.

In Mogadishu, a UNICEF and WHO-supported measles vaccination campaign began this week for 750,000 children between six months and 15 years old. Since the declaration of famine in July, more than one million children have been vaccinated against measles in Somalia.

"Across the country, tens of thousands of children have died in past months, and hundreds more die every day. Any delay or disruption in the delivery of assistance is a matter of life and death," said Sikander Khan, UNICEF's Representative in Somalia.

"I urge all parties to the conflict to meet their moral and legal obligation to provide safety and security to children and women already facing a disaster," he added, from Nairobi.

Severely malnourished children are nine times more likely to die from infectious diseases such as measles, cholera and malaria than healthy children. Measles cases have increased dramatically this year. In July, when famine was first declared, there were more than seven times as many measles cases than the same month in 2010.

Large numbers of people on the move, extremely overcrowded camps for displaced people, low immunity and poor water and sanitation infrastructure are also major risks. The onset of the rainy season generally leads to spikes in the number of people suffering from water-borne diseases such as acute watery diarrhea and malaria.

The disease caseload is also high in neighboring Kenya, where there is an outbreak of dengue fever.

Fighting and heightened security in the border area have led to a significant decrease in the number of Somali refugees crossing into Kenya to 100 people during the week of October 17 through 23 compared to 3,400 in the previous week.

Despite the temporary suspension of all but life-saving humanitarian activities in the refugee camps at Dadaab in northeastern Kenya following the abduction of two aid workers, UNICEF is committed to continuing support for severely malnourished and ill children, as well as providing safe water, education and protection services through its partner organizations.

Since the declaration of famine on July 20, nearly 110,000 severely malnourished children were treated at UNICEF-supported centers across the region. More than 2.6 million people were provided with access to safe water and over 1.5 million were reached with hygiene awareness and supplies. Since July, 8,700 metric tons of life-saving supplies were delivered by air, land or sea to southern and central Somalia.

"The international community's response since the famine declaration was tremendous," said As Sy. "But the magnitude of the crisis is such that we are far from reaching every child."

UNICEF's Horn of Africa appeal for operations in 2011 is $425 million. The needs for 2012 will still be in the hundreds of millions, and contributions will be urgently needed so that feeding programs can continue to assist children and their families in need without any breaks.

For Somalia alone, UNICEF needs $300 million in 2012 to ensure the current level of support and to scale up where needed. "We need to get these funds as early as possible to secure the pipeline of critical supplies keeping children alive," said Khan. 

About UNICEF

UNICEF has saved more children's lives than any other humanitarian aid organization in the world. Working in more than 150 countries, UNICEF provides children with health and immunizations, clean water, nutrition, education, emergency and disaster relief, and more. The U.S. Fund for UNICEF supports UNICEF's work through fundraising, advocacy, and education in the United States.

UNICEF is at the forefront of efforts to reduce child mortality worldwide. There has been substantial progress: the annual number of under-five deaths dropped from 13 million in 1990 to 7.6 million in 2010. But still, 21,000 children die each day from preventable causes. Our mission is to do whatever it takes to make that number zero by giving children the essentials for a safe and healthy childhood.

For additional information, please contact:
Susannah Masur, U.S. Fund for UNICEF, 212.880.9146, (m) 646.428.5010, smasur@unicefusa.org
Kiní Schoop, U.S. Fund for UNICEF, 212.922.2634, kschoop@unicefusa.org

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