This is a children’s famine. The magnitude of suffering and loss is tremendous. The haunting images we have seen from the Horn of Africa and the facts of this emergency speak for themselves.
At present, more than a half million children are at risk of imminent death from severe acute malnutrition. Across Somalia, Ethiopia and Kenya, an estimated 2.3 million children are already acutely malnourished.
These are already among the world’s most disadvantaged children, living on the brink and becoming more vulnerable by the day – deprived of virtually every human need, and every fundamental right.
And this is a double disaster. The situation is most dire in Somalia and the refugee camps in Kenya and Ethiopia, but it extends well beyond, to pastoral communities across the region – threatening people and their way of life.
This famine is not only about food. It is about choice and obligation.
The global community does not face a choice about its response, for there can be no choice in the face of such an overwhelming emergency.
To save lives, the global humanitarian response must be immediate. We estimate that UNICEF’s total requirements for the emergency response stand now at approximately $300,000,000 through the end of 2011.
Despite significant contributions from many governments and private donors through our National Committees, UNICEF still faces a shortfall for children and families of over $200 million. We must close that gap.
The response also must be targeted, reaching those in most immediate need and at greatest risk first, but also scaling up operations to reach those in drought and famine affected areas with preventive assistance.
And the response must be flexible – applying a range of modalities in different circumstances and adapting our response to local conditions and needs.
The only area in which we should be inflexible is in the urgency to act, and act now – both to address immediate needs and to build future resilience. For the conditions giving rise to this humanitarian crisis are likely to continue, and we must help the children and families of the Horn of Africa withstand them.
UNICEF greatly appreciates the generosity of the international community. Those contributions are already saving lives. Today, we have a chance to do even more. Every day can mean the difference between life and death, on a massive scale … but also on the most human level: For even in the face of a famine affecting millions, every life counts. And we are counting on all of you.
(Lake is the UNICEF Executive Director)