News 2008


"Silent emergencies" stalk Africa's hungry children

Wed Feb 13, 2008

By Diadie Ba

DAKAR, Feb 13 (Reuters) - While world attention is gripped by major crises such as Darfur and Kenya, malnutrition threatens the lives of hundreds of thousands of children in "silent emergencies" elsewhere in Africa, the United Nations said.

Grinding poverty, a lack of secure food supplies and poor healthcare facilities meant 1.4 million children aged under 5 would be undernourished this year in West Africa's Sahel region alone, the U.N. children's agency UNICEF said on Wednesday.

Conflicts rumbling on in countries like Democratic Republic of Congo or Central African Republic were exacerbating the situation, with violence so endemic that it was largely overlooked by the outside world.

"Unfortunately, we have a number of countries which are forgotten in terms of emergencies," said Esther Guluma, UNICEF's regional director for West and Central Africa.

"For me the most touching is the Central African Republic that has suffered an emergency for years now, where you have hundreds of thousands of people displaced and living in the forest," she told Reuters in Dakar.

"Villages are burned, women are raped and we don't speak about the emergency there."

Central African Republic, which has suffered a spate of coups, mutinies and unrest over the past decade, is facing a humanitarian crisis in its northwest and northeast, where raids by armed groups and counter-attacks by government soldiers have driven nearly 300,000 people from their homes since 2006.

The United Nations has drawn up contingency plans for the influx of up to 50,000 additional refugees into the landlocked former French colony from neighbouring Sudan and Chad, countries whose conflicts receive much greater international attention.


UNICEF said it needed $237 million to deal with emergencies in West and Central Africa, exacerbated by instability in Chad following a rebel assault on the capital N'Djamena at the start of February which displaced tens of thousands of people.

Many fled to Cameroon, others to Nigeria.

The violence also triggered the evacuation of aid workers, hampering efforts to bring relief to the country's eastern border region with Sudan's Darfur, home to nearly half a million refugees and internally displaced civilians.

Thousands more Darfuris fled over the weekend into Chad, where Chadian rebels said on Sunday they had occupied the eastern town of Am Timan, compounding the insecurity there.

"Bringing in supplies to provide for these new arrivals as well as for the existing ones is becoming extremely difficult for us and UNICEF is quite worried about our ability to respond in the next few weeks," Guluma said.

As well as immediate humanitarian needs, the money requested by UNICEF would go towards building its ability to cope with natural disasters, such as flooding which devastated swathes of West Africa last year, destroying crops and uprooting villages.

Last year UNICEF received just 52 percent of the emergency funding it requested from donors.