(formerly IRIN News) Journalism from the heart of crises

Communities on the edge

A December 2009 (monthly) nutritional survey in the Guinea capital Conakry showed a rise in moderate acute malnutrition among children like this 15-month-old. December 2009
Helen Keller International

Natural disasters, epidemics and political unrest deal a particularly heavy blow to communities in West and Central Africa, where people live in a “fragile” state daily, UN Children’s Fund said on 4 February.



UNICEF briefed reporters in Dakar on its $1.2-billion global emergency appeal for 2010; the request calls for $263 million for West and Central Africa. The annual Humanitarian Action Report and accompanying appeal spotlight crises UNICEF sees as needing additional funds outside of the regional UN-wide appeal, to save lives and protect children and women.



“What sets this region apart is a lot of people are vulnerable in normal times, in stable times,” UNICEF West and Central Africa spokesperson Martin Dawes told reporters. “The problem is that any change can make populations slip.”



Of the 182 countries in UN’s 2009 human development index 13 of the bottom 20 are in the region.



UNICEF and other aid organizations have expressed worry over the potential humanitarian impact of severe food insecurity this year in the Sahel, where families already live in difficult conditions.



“The food insecurity and malnutrition are worrying, not only in the Sahel region but also in other areas notably northern Nigeria,” UNICEF West and Central Africa emergency response chief Grant Leaity told reporters. The conditions stem from the global economic crisis – with decreased demand for raw materials and remittances down – as well as climate change effects, he said.



The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies in its 2010-11 West Africa and Sahel strategy also notes that the Sahel countries – among the poorest in the world – face multiple hazards related to climate change, including health emergencies and food insecurity. "The poor human development is manifest in the high infant and child mortality and high maternal mortality rate," IFRC says.



UNICEF's requested funding for West and Central Africa would assist children and women affected by emergencies in Central African Republic, Chad, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Guinea, Mauritania and Niger, as well as smaller-scale emergencies or post-conflict situations in Benin, Cameroon, the Congo, Ghana, Guinea-Bissau, Liberia, Mali and Togo, UNICEF says.



Emergency funding requirements for the region have increased, mainly due to increased humanitarian needs in Chad and DRC, recurrent crises (flooding and epidemics) and the financial slowdown, UNICEF says. In DRC renewed conflict in several areas has triggered new population displacements, Leaity said; Chad, already coping with hundreds of thousands of refugees and internally displaced persons, is one of the countries facing severe food insecurity this year. In both countries continued armed conflict makes humanitarian aid delivery more complicated and expensive, he pointed out.



The global financial crisis has also hit aid donations, Leaity said. UNICEF’s 2009 humanitarian action appeal for US$1.15 billion was funded to just 39 percent as of October 2009, down from the same period in 2008. “Of course it is difficult to say how [the financial situation will affect aid] for 2010,” he said. “The best we can do is to always be on top of what the most urgent needs are.”



Short and long term



Leaity pointed to the importance of incorporating mid- and long-term assistance into emergency response in the region, where infrastructure is weak.



“In normal times things are fragile,” he said. “As soon as the emergency hits not only is there an immediate or short-term effect but there’s also a mid-term or longer-term effect because the emergency often damages or breaks the infrastructure.”



Recovery is still a relatively new aspect of emergency response for many international organizations and governments, according to Leaity. It is necessary but it is hard work, it takes time and is more difficult to find funding for it, he said.



np/am/aj

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