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KENYA: Child malnutrition “emergency” in north-east

NAIROBI, 9 April 2009 (IRIN) - Alarming levels of malnutrition are being recorded in children between six and 59 months old in the north-eastern region of Mandera, which is grappling with successive droughts, high food prices and a scarcity of water, according to humanitarian officials.

Malnutrition levels have increased significantly in the past year, according to independent survey findings from January to March by Action Against Hunger (ACF), Islamic Relief (IR), and Save the Children (SCUK).

"Currently, the rate of Global Acute Malnutrition [GAM] stands at an average 30 percent, twice the [UN] World Health Organization’s accepted emergency threshold of 15 percent," according to a 7 April joint statement by the international NGOs. "Equally, the rate of Severe Acute Malnutrition [SAM] is at an average of 5 percent."

"Even without the data, the sheer number of new malnutrition cases is alarming and indicates the emergency has become acute," said Yesuf Abdella of IR.

About 200,000 people in Mandera, which has a population of about 325,000, are already relying on food aid, according to Titus Mung’ou, Kenya Red Cross Society (KRCS) communications manager.

Children at risk

According to the statement, at least 20,628 children, 32.6 percent of the total child population in Mandera, are acutely malnourished: "Of these, 4,624 are severely malnourished and at risk of death if no urgent intervention is found." Admissions to supplementary feeding and out-patient therapeutic programmes have risen by at least 40 percent.

Worst affected are pastoralist divisions of Takaba and Dandu, north-west of Mandera, where GAM levels of up to 32.3 percent have been recorded.

By comparison, in 2006, when the region was facing drought, the rate was 27.7 percent, Lindsay Spainhour, ACF nutrition medical coordinator, told IRIN. "This has heightened the alert, there is an impending emergency."

Food prices

A lack of water and pasture as well as livestock migration have reduced milk availability. About 75.6 percent of residents surveyed in Takaba and Dandu reported they were not getting milk from their camels or cows. The area is far from the main markets, increasing vulnerability.


Photo: Save The Children
Four-year old Abdi Aziz is nearly four kilogrammes underweight
Since January, the price of milk has gone up by about 30 shillings (US$0.37), Spainhour said.

Although sporadic rains have been reported in the past few days, Mandera remains largely parched. "Everyone is waiting for the rains," she said. Past long rains failure has also destabilised communities' livelihoods, leading to pastoralism being abandoned in places like Malkamari and Eymole.

According to Spainhour, additional funding is needed to expand the treatment programme for children: "We need to scale up our treatment activities to mitigate mortality from malnutrition."

ACF has 14 nutrition sites in Mandera as well as a stabilisation centre at the Mandera hospital to treat severely malnourished children with medical complications.

"... We need help now or the situation will continue to deteriorate. The need for immediate action is critical if we are to effectively respond to this crisis...” said Catherine Fitzgibbon, country director for SCUK. On 2 April SCUK launched a £5 million (about $7.3 million) emergency appeal for Kenya.

aw/mw

Theme (s): Children, Early Warning, Environment, Health & Nutrition,

[This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations]

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