20 July 2012 - A year ago today, the crisis in the Horn of Africa reached boiling point when the United Nations declared famine in two regions of southern Somalia. The extraordinary international support coupled with favourable rains helped to save countless lives and reverse the famine.
However, the crisis is far from over. Eight million people across Somalia, Ethiopia and Kenya are still in need of humanitarian assistance. Children, in particular, are threatened by a combination of poverty, insecurity, malnutrition, and disease.
"While our life-saving interventions and supplies reached millions of children and their families, many could not be reached and remain extremely vulnerable," said UNICEF Regional Director for Eastern and Southern Africa, Elhadj As Sy. "This was and continues to be a children's emergency. We must continue to provide emergency assistance where needed, but must also work more closely with communities to boost their capacities against future shocks."
With generous support from donors, who provided more than US$405 million, UNICEF was able to expand its emergency and development work in drought-stricken parts of Somalia, Kenya, Ethiopia and Djibouti, where more than 13 million people were in need of humanitarian assistance in 2011.
Between July and December 2011, about 63,000 metric tonnes of humanitarian supplies were delivered - half of these were supplementary and therapeutic food. To date, nearly 1 million children were treated for malnutrition across the region.
To build resilience, disaster risk reduction is now being integrated into UNICEF's emergency and development programmes. Basic services for health, nutrition, sanitation and education at community level are being strengthened. UNICEF is also working with partners to strengthen safety nets for vulnerable families using cash transfers.
With a third of the population, or 2.5 million people, still in need of emergency assistance, Somalia remains the worst-affected country In some regions of the South, one in five children is suffering from life-threatening acute malnutrition. In Kenya, 2.2 million people are in need of humanitarian assistance, as are 3.2 million people in Ethiopia. Malnutrition continues to be a serious concern. Currently nearly 900,000 children are suffering from malnutrition in the three countries.
The crisis forced thousands of people out of their homes. There are now more than 626,000 Somali refugees in Kenya and Ethiopia. Inside Somalia, more than 1 million people are internally displaced, nearly 60 per cent of them children.
Conflict, instability, poor rains and continued restricted access for aid agencies pose a major threat to children and their families. There are already indications that the situation could deteriorate in southern Somalia, where acute malnutrition among children under five in some places is nearly twice the emergency threshold.
Short-term emergency assistance, although crucial to address health, nutrition, and water and sanitation needs, will not prevent future crises. Drawing inspirations from communities' own responses and coping strategies to crises, UNICEF has been increasingly working over the years on long-term interventions to build resilience and address the needs of the most vulnerable.
"Traditional coping mechanisms are being stretched to the limit for many communities," said Mr. Sy. "The cycle of crises must be broken through new means of supporting communities to withstand and recover better from disaster.
"We need to preserve our hard-won gains, and invest in children today to prevent similar crises from happening again in the future."
To continue its relief efforts, and invest in resilience-building in Somalia, Kenya and Ethiopia, UNICEF needs a total of US $265 million for 2012. To date, only 43 per cent of the funds have been received.
Source: United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF)