July 27 2012

Saving children's lives in the Sahel

25/07/2012 - More than one million children are threatened by famines in several countries of West and Central Africa. To avoid another humanitarian catastrophe on the scale of last year's crisis in East Africa, the world must act immediately. SOS Children's Villages is helping thousands of children and their families in some of the worst hit areas in Niger, Mali and Chad.

More than 18 million people across West and Central Africa are in the grip of a growing hunger crisis. Crop shortages, rising food prices and insecurity have left more than 1 million children facing starvation. An increase in cases of malaria and other diseases is another serious threat for thousands of children.

Photo: SOS Archives
Children are the first victims when food is lacking   ©  Photo: SOS Archives
Mali faces a fatal combination of high-risk factors

This year, Mali is facing its third food crisis in just ten years. More than 3.5 million people (out of a total population of some 14.5 million) are affected. This already critical situation is aggravated more and more by the consequences of the political upheaval in the north of the country.

SOS Children's Villages started an emergency food aid programme in Khouloum and Kita in the region of Kayes, and in Socoura in the region of Mopti - areas where SOS Children's Villages has been active for years and which are most affected by the current food crisis. Some 9,400 people (7,400 adults and 2,000 children) receive free food and other humanitarian assistance from SOS Children’s Villages.

Initially, adults receive a daily ration of grains (millet is the staple cereal), beans and vegetable oil to give them the necessary energy and capabilities to prepare for the next harvest. Secondly, SOS Children's Villages is fighting malnutrition among children under five, particularly those who are severely affected by nutritional deprivation. In addition to the distribution of nutritional milk supplements, particular attention is paid to medical needs, water and sanitation, and the sharing of methods to prevent acute malnutrition. The target population includes all children from six to 59 months of age and all pregnant and breastfeeding women. To this end, awareness campaigns are organised regularly to improve care practices, especially those concerning nutrition and hygiene.

Photo: SOS Archives
Youths volunteer with the distribution of rice   © SOS Archives
Food crisis in Niger soon to be at critical level

From February to June 2012, SOS Children's Villages Niger already carried out an emergency relief programme for famine victims in 21 villages in the department of Madaoua, region Tahoua, in the southwest of the country. The support for 6,000 children and 1,000 adults included food distribution, counselling of women on balanced nutrition for children and prevention of malnutrition and provision of medicines against hunger-related diseases and special nutritional products to five health centres.

An assessment mission on the current food situation confirmed that we are still in front of a very severe food crisis in the municipality of Madaoua and its surroundings, caused by food shortage due to drought; high and preoccupying malnutrition among children under five; and low resilience capacity of families. The emergency programme will be extended until the end of 2012, as the food crisis threatens to reach a critical level very soon.

Photo: Mahamat Abdelkerim Ahmadaye
In Bahar Ghazal Nord in the region of Kanem, besides Batha the most affected region in Chad © Mahamat Abdelkerim Ahmadaye
Fighting famine in Chad

An emergency food aid programme for up to 4,500 children and 1,500 adults is also planned to start in August in the West region of Batha in Chad. SOS Children's Villages will provide food, health care and nutrition in partnership with local administrative and traditional authorities, community representatives, technical services and other development partners. This support will help the most vulnerable in the communities, especially children, women and the elderly. Feeding a family of seven for a month takes at least one bag of millet (100 kg), 20 litres of vegetable oil, 5 kilograms of fish or meat and some ingredients. This will help families regain their social and psychological balance and go about their daily work normally in the lean season.

Integrated health centres will treat sick people from the villages with special focus on acute malnutrition cases. The centres will also receive special food products that fight micronutrient malnutrition especially among children up to five years of age. Local community nutrition surveillance will be established, thus training pregnant and lactating women in the adequate care of infants. The children’s weight will be monitored once a month to assess the reduction of disease and the impact of these measures. Households affected by HIV/AIDS or other chronic diseases will be given priority.