Lesotho + 5 more

UNICEF mobilizing emergency operation as millions of children and women are threatened by famine in Southern Africa

News and Press Release
Originally published
NEW YORK, 26 June 2002 - The United Nations Children's Fund is gearing up to provide assistance to Southern Africa, which is poised on the brink of a major humanitarian crisis.
According to UN assessments, as many as 12.8 million people, including 2.3 million under five years of age, will require food assistance from now through March 2003 due to a combination of harsh climatic conditions, poor management of food reserves and political and economic instability.

UNICEF's efforts in the affected countries - Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Swaziland, Zambia and Zimbabwe - focus on supplying vital nutrition to children and mothers. UNICEF's efforts stretch beyond satisying nutritional needs. Health, water and sanitation, education and the protection of children from kidnapping, sexual abuse and other forms of exploitation are flash points that touch the most vulnerable - the children.

  • During famine, crippling and deadly diseases such measles, cholera and polio spread more rapidly and threaten children. In response, UNICEF is widening immunization and prevention efforts to contain the scourges.

  • Helping families to keep their children enrolled in school is of vital importance. As the economic pressure pushes families to extremes, children may leave school to help out. Some children will be orphaned and drop out to help support siblings. School feeding programmes are one of the main ways that UNICEF ensures that no child goes hungry or forgotten.

  • The HIV/AIDS epidemic, which affects 16 per cent to 25 per cent of the population in the region, greatly exasperates the challenges children confront from the food crisis. Poor nutrition weakens or kills HIV/AIDS sufferers, causing children to become primary care givers. Transactional sex will increase as people - especially adolescent girls - are pushed to exchange sex for food.
Of the countries facing the crisis, Zimbabwe is the most affected with over 6 million people (or half the total population) dependant on international aid. Malawi and Zambia are also severly affected. In addition, hundreds of thousands of people require humanitarian assistance in Lesotho, Mozambique and Swaziland.

Zimbabwe - An estimated 600,000 children are in need of food aid. The current feeding programme for malnourished children under five will be expanded to 130,000 children. Surveillance projects to monitor infant growth rates are being put in place. Other expanded programmes include distribution of plastic sheeting for basic shelter, and cholera control (distributing watercans, soap, water purfication tablets and chloride) for 10,000 families. UNICEF is organizing a measles and vitamin A National Immunization Days for July 2-9.

Malawi - Of the 3.2 million people affected, more than one million children are malnourished. Fifty thousand children under five and 41,000 pregnant and lactating women are in a supplementary food programme, and 4,000 chronically and severely malnourished children are receiving extra helpings. UNICEF supports the government response to the cholera emergency with the provision of essential drugs and sanitation materials. In addition, UNICEF is developing strategies to stimulate school attendance and to improve on the reintegration of children on the street due to the crisis.

Zambia - Of the 2.3 million people affected, 460,000 are under five. Because, in addition to the food crisis, Zambia is facing severe water shortages. UNICEF is expanding its drilling projects to provide drinking water and purchasing water containers for communities. Along with its partners, UNICEF is monitoring nutritional and baby weight surveillance.

Lesotho - Some 444,800 people will require food aid, including 62,500 children. Given that large numbers of children will need supplementary and therapeutic feeding, UNICEF is working with partners to identify malnourished children and refer them to feeding centres. Additionally, it is contributing to the replenishment of child feeding supplies for these hospital feeding programmes.

Swaziland - A UN assessment has identified 141,000 people at severe risk, with an additional 82,000 expected within three months. UNICEF is mobilizing communities to help ensure that children stay in school. Special support is being given to out-of-school children, many of whom are either orphans or from especially impoverished families (often in female-headed/grandmother headed households). UNICEF is planning to support school feeding in the most impoverished rural areas, supplying kitchen equipment and food supplies.

Mozambique - Of the 515,000 people facing severe food insecurity, approximately 100,000 are children under five. In the context of the drought, UNICEF is providing support in the management of malnutrition, cholera and other health programmes. With the Ministry of Education, UNICEF will monitor school attendance in drought-affected areas.

For further information, contact:

UNICEF Geneva: Wivina Belmonte,wbelmonte@unicef.org, (4122) 909-5509
UNICEF New York: Alfred Ironside, aironside@unicef.org (1212) 326-7261