/R E P E A T -- Time is running out for children as famine, drought and war threaten millions/

UNICEF says children can't wait, with urgent request for nearly $255 million to respond to immediate needs in northeast Nigeria, Somalia, South Sudan and Yemen

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NEW YORK, DAKAR, NAIROBI, AMMAN, and TORONTO, March 27, 2017 /CNW/ - More than a month after famine was declared in South Sudan, time is running out for more than a million children as drought and armed conflict devastate lives in northeast Nigeria, Somalia, South Sudan and Yemen, UNICEF said today.

"A month ago, these countries were on the brink of a hunger crisis. Today, that crisis has become a full blown catastrophe with the clock ticking towards a second declaration of famine," said UNICEF Canada President and CEO David Morley. "Unless we act now, it's only a matter of time before the lives and futures of millions more children and families are devastated."

22 million children at risk

Some 22 million children have been left hungry, sick, displaced and out of school in the four countries, UNICEF said. Nearly 1.4 million are at imminent risk of death this year from severe malnutrition.

UNICEF will require close to $255 million to provide these children with food, water, health, education and protection services for just the next few months, according to a new funding update.

Most of the funds – more than $81 million – will go towards nutrition programs to screen children for malnutrition and provide them with life-saving therapeutic food.

World must act before it's too late

This month, the Government of Canada committed $119.25 million to help scale up the humanitarian response to the crisis, including $9.6 million for UNICEF.

"We are pleased that Canada is taking action to help provide urgent relief to the millions of children and families suffering from malnutrition and hunger in South Sudan as well as in Nigeria, Somalia and Yemen," said Morley. "UNICEF has been conducting massive relief operations in South Sudan since the conflict began, and is on the ground in all four countries, intensifying its response in the wake of the famine. But despite our best efforts, the current scale of the crisis is far outpacing the collective humanitarian response."

Of the funds needed, $53 million will be allocated to health services including vaccinations, while more than $47 million will go to water, sanitation and hygiene programs to prevent potentially deadly diahorreal diseases.

The remaining funds will help protect children affected by conflict and displacement and provide them with education services. Cash assistance will also be offered to the most vulnerable families.

The resources needed over the next few months are part of a broader appeal for all of 2017, totaling $712 million – a 50 per cent increase over funding requirements in the four countries at the same time last year.

"Children can't wait for yet another famine declaration before we take action," said UNICEF Director of Emergency Programs Manuel Fontaine. "We learned from Somalia in 2011 that by the time famine was announced, untold numbers of children had already died. That can't happen again."

UNICEF responding to famine threat

UNICEF has been working with partners in the four countries to respond to the famine threat and prevent it from spreading:

  • In northeast Nigeria, UNICEF will reach 3.9 million people with emergency primary healthcare services this year, treat 220,000 severely malnourished children under the age of five and provide more than a million people with access to safe water.

  • In Somalia, UNICEF is supporting 1.7 million children under the age of five, including the treatment of up to 277,000 severe acute malnutrition cases through facility-based and mobile health and nutrition services.

  • In South Sudan, UNICEF, together with partners, has delivered life-saving assistance to 128,000 people in areas affected or threatened by famine, including almost 30,000 children under the age of five.

  • In Yemen, UNICEF has scaled up activities to respond to malnutrition through health facilities, mobile teams, community health workers and volunteers reaching hard-to-access communities and displaced families. UNICEF is also supporting severely acutely malnourished children and their families with cash assistance and water and sanitation services, including the provision of safe water, supplies and hygiene promotion.

"The continued support of Canadians will make a difference in providing life-saving assistance where it's needed most," said Morley.

Armed conflict a driver of crisis

Armed conflict is a major driver of this crisis, UNICEF said, calling for unconditional, unimpeded and sustainable access to the children in need and an end to the violations of children's rights in the affected countries. 

UNICEF also sounded the alarm about a worsening nutrition situation in neighbouring countries.

"As violence, hunger and thirst force people to move within and across borders, malnutrition rates will continue to soar not just in these four countries, but also in the Lake Chad basin and the Greater Horn of Africa," Fontaine said. "If humanitarian agencies do not get the access and resources they need to reach the most vulnerable, lives will be lost."

About UNICEF

UNICEF has saved more children's lives than any other humanitarian organization. We work tirelessly to help children and their families, doing whatever it takes to ensure children survive. We provide children with healthcare and immunization, clean water, nutrition and food security, education, emergency relief and more.

UNICEF is supported entirely by voluntary donations and helps children regardless of race, religion or politics. As part of the UN, we are active in more than 190 countries - more than any other organization. Our determination and our reach are unparalleled. Because nowhere is too far to go to help a child survive. For more information about UNICEF, please visit www.unicef.ca. For updates, follow us on Twitter and Facebook or visit unicef.ca.

SOURCE UNICEF Canada

For further information: For interviews or more information, please contact: Stefanie Carmichael, UNICEF Canada, 416-482-6552 ext. 8866, scarmichael@unicef.ca

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