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Meeting in Senegal highlights the growing number of malnourished children in the Sahel

Even though harvests have been better in much of the Sahel this year, an estimated 1.4 million children are likely to be malnourished across the region in 2013. This represents a rise of 400,000 from the 1 million children suffering from malnourishment in 2012.

These numbers were released this week by the Humanitarian Sahel Strategy group of agencies working in the region, which covers parts or all of Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Chad, Mali, Mauritania, Niger, Nigeria, The Gambia and Senegal, where the agencies met. At the meeting in Dakar, it was announced that 70% of the 1.65 billion dollars requested for humanitarian appeals had been provided by the international community in 2012. And another 370 million had been given to the region outside of United Nations appeals. However, this left shortfalls, particularly in funding for health, education and water sanitation, where only half the amount needed has been forthcoming.

A lack of safe water is one of the key risk factors across the Sahel, where around 230,000 children die each year from illnesses which are linked either directly or indirectly to malnutrition. Inaccessible medical services and poor infant-caring practices also add to the poor health of children, as well as the general situation of food insecurity.

The UN’s child agency, UNICEF, reports that 2012 saw the largest response yet to the food situation in the Sahel, with nutrition programmes across the region covering 850,000 children. But despite this effort, agencies are still concerned about a growing number of malnourished children. The rise in numbers is partly due to better nutrition surveys, which more accurately assess the situation in various countries, particularly in hard-to-reach areas. For example, in Senegal, better nutrition survey analysis puts the number of severely malnourished children in the country at 20,000, double the amount calculated in 2012. But the problem is also one of growing populations in many countries, which inevitably increases the number of malnourished children.

Speaking to IRIN, the head of the World Food Programme said that all humanitarian agencies in the Sahel region were concentrating on building resilience and looking at long term investments, rather than just quick-fix solutions. He said that the priority was to carry out work and implement strategies which don’t “just feed today”, but also “build for tomorrow”.

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