CHILDREN IN DROUGHT
Unicef estimates 22 million children have been left hungry, sick, displaced and out of school in the four countries, and nearly 1.4 million are at imminent risk of death this year from severe malnutrition.
According to Manuel Fontaine, UNICEF Director of Emergency Programme, there is need for an urgent action, waiting is not an option. He said “We learned from Somalia in 2011 that by the time famine was announced, untold numbers of children had already died. That can’t happen again.”
The current drought being experienced in East Africa is the worst since 1945, with famine being declared in some area. In a region where a parent says “We were unable to feed our children. Because of the drought we did not have anything to eat,” has seen an increased number of children suffering from severely malnourished. These children are nine times more likely to die than a child who is not malnourished.
- Childhood illnesses observed at the time of drought were respiratory (7.5 %), gastroentrological (7.5%), and 5.6% fever (viral, malaria and jaundice), higher in males than females.
- Children suffered from recent and long term malnutrition were 39% and 26% respectively as per National Centre for Health Statistics (NCHS) standards. The extent of malnutrition was significantly higher in females than in males (p<0.01).
- Vitamin A & B complex deficiencies were 0.7% and 3/% respectively. The protein energy malnutrition (PEM) was observed in 44.4%. Overall mean calorie and protein intake deficit was observed to be very high (76.0 & 54.0 %) .
Drought can also have serious social, economic and political impacts with far-reaching consequences. As a result of drought children are now at increased risks of sexual violence, child labour, early marriage and other harmful practices.
Children are forced to drop out of school because
- Many schools have run out of water
- School feeding programmes have stopped:
- Children have to help their families search for food and water
- Children and their families are migrating to different areas
- Children are struggling to concentrate and learn due to hunger and dehydration:
- Scabies – a contagious skin disease which is prevalent in times of drought – is becoming a serious health factor affecting children’s learning:
- Loss of assets and livelihoods has compromised the capacity of parents and caregivers to send their children to school
- Teacher absenteeism: some teachers are also absent from class in order to search for food and water or have moved to different areas.
Household exposure to drought in areas of violent conflict has strong long term adverse effects on child nutritional outcomes (Jean-Pierre etal ), which increases the vulnerability of the children in accessing health, education and other social services.
Hence there is need to implement long term and sustainable solutions to break the cycle of drought. This solutions include
- Effective measures making availability of adequate calories and proteins to all age groups especially to under five children through the ongoing nutrition programs needs to be ensured.
- Diversification of foods in the affected areas.
- Developing innovative ways that will reduce the dependance on rain fed agriculture.
- Train children from a young age on sustainable food security methods
- A collaborative response to the drought.
- A rapid assessment on child protection issues in the drought.
- Implement the drought response strategy in Kenya.
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