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Malnutrition, animal attacks on the rise as Horn of Africa experiences severe drought

(LONDON) — An estimated 185,000 children in eastern Ethiopia are suffering from severe malnutrition as the region experiences a “once-in-a-lifetime” drought, the charity Save the Children said on Thursday.

UNICEF previously warned of an “explosion of child deaths” in the Horn of Africa without immediate action, with over 1.7 million children across Ethiopia, Kenya and Somalia in need for treatment for severe acute malnutrition.

Experts have said that climate change has intersected with man-made crises to worsen the famine, withrecent fighting in Ethiopia and the disruption to global food supplies brought by the war in Ukraine exacerbating the situation.

Earlier this month, UNICEF’s deputy regional director for Eastern and Southern Africa, Rania Dagash, made a desperate plea to the international community to intervene.

“[I]f the world does not widen its gaze from the war in Ukraine and act immediately, an explosion of child deaths is about to happen in the Horn of Africa,” she said. “Four rainy seasons have failed in the space of two years – killing crops and livestock and drying up water sources. Forecasts suggest the next October to December rains are likely to fail too.”

In a new report, Save the Children warned that the situation is set to worsen over the coming months as food prices continue to rise. The unprecedented conditions have also led to a change in animal behaviors, the charity said, as desperate monkeys and warthogs are encroaching on human communities in search of food and water. In the Shabelle zone of the Somali region, families have reported witnessing monkeys attacking children out of desperation.

“We have been receiving reports that many families have had to fend off hungry monkeys with sticks,” Abdirizak Ahmed, Save the Children’s area operation manager in the east of Ethiopia, said. “The monkeys never normally attack people, but the situation is so terrible that they are resorting to unnatural behavior like this especially in Dawa and Shebelle areas, the first areas affected by the drought and the driest. We understand the children were unharmed, but it’s filled people with fear about what the future will bring.”

Twenty-three million people are experiencing extreme hunger across Ethiopia, Somalia and Kenya, Save the Children said. The charity is urgently calling for donors to help avert the humanitarian crisis.

“Children — especially small children — are bearing the brunt of a harrowing and multifaceted crisis in Ethiopia,” said Xavier Joubert, Save the Children’s director in Ethiopia. “A prolonged, expanding, and debilitating drought is grinding away at their resilience, already worn down by a grueling conflict and two years of the COVID-19 pandemic.”

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