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Funding can’t keep up with hunger warnings in sub-Saharan Africa

Women and children wait to be treated at a hospital run by Medecins Sans Frontieres (Doctors Without Borders) in Leer, South Sudan.
Women and children wait to be treated at a hospital run by Medecins Sans Frontieres (Doctors Without Borders) in Leer, South Sudan.
AP Photo/Josphat Kasire

The UN Children’s Fund issued a warning that some 200,000 children under five years old are at risk of severe malnutrition in Somalia. The agency pleaded for critical financial support to prevent the problem from getting worse. So far, only $15 million of the $150 million needed has been received.

“Somalia has 200,000 children under the age of five at risk of death (by) the end of the year 2014 from severe malnutrition if they do not receive life saving therapeutic assistance,” said UNICEF spokesman Christophe Boulierac at a news briefing in Geneva.

“If funding is not received immediately, UNICEF will have to suspend essential life-saving health services within one month.”

Boulierac’s warning is the latest in a series of calls by NGOs, countries and the UN for immediate action against hunger in sub-Saharan Africa. Instability and poor rains have conspired to create problems for people living in Somalia, South Sudan, the Central African Republic, and the Sahel region of West Africa. Much like the case with Somalia, the money needed to respond to hunger is not enough.

In the Central African Republic, one million children are at risk of hunger and disease, says the UK’s Save the Children. The inability of aid supplies to reach the most vulnerable due to fighting and insecurity means that people who are in need of assistance must fend for themselves. With some 600,000 people displaced, life is disrupted for many of the people living in the Central African Republic.

Food prices are up by 20%, says Save the Children. It is concerned that the coming rainy season will make matters worse as it will make the spread of disease easier and further isolate people who are already living away from home. The group estimates that more than 100,000 children are at the risk of malnutrition in the country.

“It is hard to see how things could get any worse, but we are facing an even deepening crisis if we do not act fast. Hundreds of thousands of children have already had to flee their homes and have not been spared in the violence,” said Robert Lankenau, Save the Children’s Country Director in the Central African Republic.

To the west, a worsening food security situation in Northern Nigeria, Northern Cameroon and Senegal means that some 20 million people are expected to need humanitarian assistance across the Sahel region of West Africa. That is a dramatic increase from the 11.3 million that needed assistance in 2013. The UN has developed its first-ever three year plan for the region in order to encourage more sustained solutions to the cyclical problem of hunger.

The plan requested $2 billion to ensure that one out of every eight people in the Sahel get assistance. Food assistance alone is expected to reach 11.8 million people this year, with the concern that 5 million children under five years old are acutely malnourished. The UN will also struggle to get funding for this response. It’s request for $1.7 billion in 2013 for the Sahel was only 63% funded.

Warnings that nearly 7 million people in South Sudan are at risk of hunger led donors to pledge an additional $606 million, last week. There are 1.3 million people on the brink of famine, warned the UN. New contributions from the US ($290 million), UK ($101 million) and other donors brought the pledge total to $1.2 billion for this year, almost completely funding the $1.27 billion request from the UN.

The pledges come on the heels of a reported cholera outbreak in the country.  There are 514 reported cases of cholera so far, in Juba County. Of which 20 people have died.

“There is a risk of the outbreak spreading to other surrounding counties and villages if community interventions are not rigorously conducted,” said Dr. Abdinasir Abubakar acting Officer in Charge, of the World Health Organization, in a press briefing.

UNICEF has already spent $1.7 million to respond to the outbreak, but it needs an additional $10 million to keep up its work, said Abdulkadir Musse , Senior Emergency specialist for UNICEF. He said that the lack of water produced by the urban water corporation is leading people to use untreated surface and ground water. Coupled with poor sanitation, cholera can easily spread throughout infected communities.

“Addressing this outbreak of cholera in south Sudan requires a concerted effort from everyone,”said Musse. “The United Nations and the Ministry of Health are certainly
pulling out all the stops to try to contain the spread of the outbreak and to treat the people who are already suffering from the disease.”


About Author

Tom Murphy

Tom Murphy is a New Hampshire-based reporter for Humanosphere. Before joining Humanosphere, Tom founded and edited the aid blog A View From the Cave. His work has appeared in Foreign Policy, the Huffington Post, the Guardian, GlobalPost and Christian Science Monitor. He tweets at @viewfromthecave. Contact him at tmurphy[at]