Nutritional Crisis Now Acute: Malnutrition Spikes in Northern Kenya

For Immediate Release

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James Phelan Communications Officer
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jphelan@actionagainsthunger.org

Nutritional Crisis Now Acute: Malnutrition Spikes in Northern Kenya

International NGOs issue joint statement as malnutrition rates top 30% in Kenya's north

MANDERA DISTRICT, Kenya - International humanitarian organizations Action Against Hunger / Action Contre la Faim (ACF), Islamic Relief (IR), and Save the Children (SC-UK)
have issued a joint appeal for urgent action to contain and reverse the
alarming rates of acute malnutrition uncovered in Kenya's northeastern
province. Independent annual surveys carried out in the greater Mandera
District (January-March 2009) document rates of global acute
malnutrition at 30% on average-twice the World Health Organization's
emergency threshold of 15%-while 5% of the region's children are faced
with severe acute malnutrition, a clear indication of a serious
nutritional crisis.

These independent findings provide a comprehensive glimpse into the
extent of the crisis, detailing significant increases in admissions to
therapeutic nutrition programs, widespread water and food insecurity,
and an increased need for external assistance. "What we're seeing is
extremely troubling: water scarcity has driven livestock out of the
region, creating shortages of milk and undermining the health of
infants and children," according to Sophie Bruas, Country Director for
Action Against Hunger. "Immediate assistance is needed as these
communities are barely coping."

Underlying Causes

The growth in acute malnutrition has had
multiple causes. Conditions have grown harsher after the failure of
three consecutive rainy seasons-beginning in 2006-imposing long, dry
seasons on communities, animals, and crops. Coupled with rising food
prices, widespread water scarcity, poor hygiene and sanitation
practices (some 60% of the communities in Mandera West have no access
to latrines), and a decrease in regional trade from recent border
closings have all contributed to a lack of affordable food and water in
the area.

According to the survey findings, 20,628 children-or 32.6% of all
children in the region-are acutely malnourished in greater Mandera
District; of these, 4,624 are severely acutely malnourished and at risk
of death if they do not receive treatment. The number of malnourished
children admitted into supplementary nutrition programs and outpatient
therapeutic programs has increased dramatically by some 40%-100%
throughout Mandera. "Even without the data, the sheer number of new
malnutrition cases is alarming and indicates an acute emergency," says
Yesuf Abdella of Islamic Relief. "Malnutrition has long been
underfunded in the region, but this is a dramatic upswing and we need
help."

Emergency Funding Needed

The cumulative impact has been one of
growing insecurity in a region where populations depend on donor
support for survival: 50% of Mandera's population rely on food aid at a
time of food scarcity and higher prices. "These survey findings confirm
the [Kenyan] President's declaration of hunger as a national disaster
in Kenya," observes Catherine Fitzgibbon, Country Director of Save the
Children UK. "After years of little rain, losses of livelihoods, and
over 100,000 new cases of malnutrition from last year's food crisis
alone, immediate action is critical if we want to stem this crisis."

To counter this nutritional crisis, Action Against Hunger, Islamic Relief, and Save the Children call for the following:

  1. Continued and expanded treatment for children with acute malnutrition throughout the district;
  2. Comprehensive support for preventive health services for the most vulnerable in Mandera;
  3. Increased general food rations (of sufficient quantity,
    quality, and coverage) along with a "protection ration" for families
    treating malnourished children at home-an essential component in the
    success of home treatment.
  4. Assurances that drought-affected areas will have immediate access to emergency water supplies.

Additional
funding and commitments are needed immediately; we call on all national
and international donors to expedite emergency funding in support of
existing programs in the region. Hundreds of lives are at stake.

Related Publications

Nutritional Surveys - Mandera, Kenya

Action Against Hunger conducted three integrated nutritional surveys
in the Mandera district of Kenya in early 2009. Download the executive
summaries below:

Mandera West Mandera Central Mandera East

 

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Action Against Hunger / Action Contre la Faim (ACF), an international relief and development organization committed to saving the lives of malnourished children and families, provides sustainable access to safe water and long-term solutions to hunger. For nearly three decades, ACF has pursued its vision of a world without hunger by combating hunger in emergency situations of conflict, natural disaster, and chronic food insecurity.

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