Ralph Fiennes: Time is running out for West Africa's children Ralph Fiennes, 03-30-2012 5:56 PM
UNICEF UK Ambassador Ralph Fiennes calls for an urgent response to the food and nutrition crisis in West Africa. Three years ago I visited a therapeutic feeding centre in a refugee camp in Chad. On every bed on the basic ward was a mother and a tiny, fragile, malnourished baby. I remember one sleeping baby boy who looked particularly frail and was lying very still. The mother, herself hungry and weak, was no longer able to breastfeed her baby. But the nurse was optimistic that he would get better. The UNICEF staff I was travelling with told me that this kind of severe malnutrition in children under the age of five is life-threatening, but with the right treatment and care, they have a good chance of surviving and recovering. Ralph Fiennes visits a mother and child at the Goz Beida Hospital in a refugee camp in Eastern Chad in 2009. © Marco Di Lauro/Getty Images
I am alarmed to hear from UNICEF that in the next few months, a million children could die in eight countries across West Africa, including Chad, without immediate treatment and care. It is not a famine, but a very complex food crisis that is the result of a number of factors including drought, rising food prices and poor harvests. And this looming disaster has, to date, attracted little media attention. UNICEF has been warning of this situation for months, but has still only received a third of the funds it needs to ensure that every one of these severely malnourished children will get the treatment they need. The annual 'hunger season' in this region of West Africa – when food from the last harvest runs out – has begun early for many of the affected communities, and time is running out to avert a major catastrophe. That’s why today UNICEF offices in over 36 countries of the world are uniting in an unprecedented effort to focus the world’s attention on to this crisis and to launch an urgent global appeal to raise funds for the children whose lives are at risk. When I met with staff from UNICEF UK last week, I was actually told that one million children was probably a conservative estimate. Under extreme conditions, we could see that figure rise to about 1.5 million children who are at risk of death if they do not receive treatment as early as possible. And alongside this response, much work continues to address the underlying causes of malnutrition, including the lack of access to clean water and extremely low rates of exclusive breastfeeding. There is no doubt that this is an enormous challenge, but we should not have to see children die from hunger in front of us. It shouldn’t be like this in 2012. We cannot let such crises happen again and again because of a lack of funds. Shout loud. Give money. Do whatever it takes to save children’s lives now.
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