EDP readers urged to do what they can to help as famine returns to Africa

Famine. It's a word that is used sparingly.

But that means when it is called upon you instantly know the situation is desperate.

That is exactly what has happened in Somalia where just last week the dreaded f-word was used for the first time in two decades.

Sadly, the country suffering so much then is the same one which needs our help this time around.

Back in 1991 millions went hungry when the government was toppled and the country descended into chaos.

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This time a two-year drought has left many millions facing a daily struggle for even the smallest amount of food and water.

At present the problem is not believed to be as severe as two decades ago, but there are fears it could get worse – much worse.

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The problem is also quickly spreading across the Horn of Africa, with severe malnourishment being experienced in Ethiopia and Kenya too.

There are charities trying to do their bit to help – but in order to do so they need your support – something which in these hardened times is even harder to come by.

One of these is Unicef. Unicef is the organisation with the largest presence in Somalia and is working to reach the most vulnerable children in the Horn of Africa region.

They are supporting approximately 800 nutrition centres across Somalia and providing 1.2 million people with access to safe drinking water.

Right now, Unicef is scaling up life-saving efforts in therapeutic feeding, in providing access to safe water and sanitation as well as in preventing the spread of killer diseases including measles through vaccination campaigns.

But it urgently needs �183.4m to rapidly scale up life-saving efforts across East Africa. This figure is currently 70pc unfunded, it estimates.

David Bull, Unicef UK executive director, told the EDP: 'We have stepped up our response even more as the death rate among severely malnourished children under the age of five in Lower Shabelle in South Somalia has climbed dramatically. They are now dying at a rate of more than 250 per day – that's one child every six minutes. This is totally unacceptable and we must all act now to help save lives.'

Unicef last week sent its second full charter airlift of emergency supplies from Europe in response to the famine and the wider Horn of Africa food crisis.

It comprised emergency supplies, including health items (essential medicines, syringes, health kits, midwifery kits) and WASH items (oral rehydration salts).

These were loaded and trucked from Unicef's Copenhagen Supply Division warehouse to Schiphol Airport in Amsterdam and were scheduled to arrive on Monday.

A ship has also delivered 200 tonnes of Unimix (fortified milk) and 1.7 million packages of Plumpy Nut (ready-to-use therapeutic peanut paste) to Mogadishu. Another ship is leaving within the next few days with more supplies. So far 1,300 tonnes have been delivered to the Horn of Africa.

Elhadj As Sy, regional director for Unicef Eastern and Southern Africa, said: 'Unicef is using every means possible to reach every child. There simply can be no compromise on the objective to keep children and their families alive. Every life must count and we cannot afford to lose more lives to this crisis.'

The children's famine in East Africa is affecting more children every day. Across Somalia, Ethiopia and Kenya, an estimated 2.3 million children are already acutely malnourished.

This is a double disaster for the children of East Africa. The situation is life-threatening in Somalia and refugee camps in Kenya and Ethiopia, but is also silently crippling those living in the drought-affected villages across the three countries.

Without your help this problem is only going to get worse.

To donate �5 to UNICEF text FOOD* to 70030, call 0800 037 9797 or go to www.unicef.org.uk

A letter to the readers of the Eastern Daily Press,

I am writing to ask for your help for the children of East Africa. A triple shock of conflict, soaring food prices and failing harvests mean that children in East Africa are slowly dying through no fault of their own.

These are children like Shueyb, who is just 14 months old. If Shueyb had been born in the UK, he would be healthy and safe, playing with brothers and sisters now during the school holidays. Instead, he is acutely malnourished and suffering from severe diarrhoea which is slowly emaciating his tiny frame. Holding his fragile body close, his mother is hungry herself, but is desperate for help for her little boy.

The people of Somalia are living through the worst drought in fifty years, and the heartbreaking truth is that by the time you have finished reading this paper, it will be too late for some of them. Right now, as many as 250 children are dying every day in some parts of Somalia. That's one every six minutes.

In Kenya and Ethiopia, children are arriving daily from Somalia in a desperate attempt to find food and safety. Perhaps even more worryingly, thousands of children also remain in drought-affected villages. Without proper nutrition, and without access to sanitation and basic hygiene, these children are slowly falling prey to hunger and disease.

The numbers of children who need our help is staggering. More than two million children in East Africa are acutely malnourished, with more than half-a-million children suffering from life-threatening malnutrition.

It is hard to comprehend figures like these, and easy to want to turn away from the suffering. But now is the time to help us to reach these children. This is the worst humanitarian disaster in the world at the moment, and the amount of help needed can seem overwhelming, but whatever you can give really can make a difference.

Unicef is already providing help to the hundreds of thousands of children at risk. We are working to treat acutely malnourished children through therapeutic feeding programmes. We are working to ensure that the most vulnerable have access to clean water by repairing pumping stations. Unicef is also supporting a vaccination campaign targeting nearly 100,000 children.

Your help is absolutely vital now. By donating to Unicef you can re-write this story for thousands of children; your compassion and generosity can save their lives. Just �25 is enough to provide a month's supply of therapeutic peanut paste, a life-saving food which can bring a severely malnourished child back to health.

All children have the right to proper nutrition and sanitation, to stay alive and be healthy. Please help us to help the children of the Horn of Africa before it's too late.

Julie Weston

Deputy Executive Director

Unicef UK

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