Citizens of the World: Respond to the Horn of Africa’s Call

by Victor Koyi, National Director, ChildFund Kenya

As our team in Kenya grapples with the worsening drought affecting more than 550,000 people in ChildFund program areas and more than 2.5 million across the population, our constant concern is the well-being of children, especially those five and younger. They are at the highest risk of death and life-long development issues due to inadequate food intake at a young age.

Photo of Kenya children with cups awaiting food

Children in Kenya's Turkana region await supplemental food. (Jake Lyell Photography)

Our analysis also shows a gap in the outreach to this vulnerable age category. Most drought-response efforts are targeting children in general, seeking to provide support through primary schools. But children in the 0 to 5 age range are not found in the basic schools. To assume that they are being reached through the general food distribution to their parents is taking a huge risk of excluding this developmentally critical age group.

To close this gap, ChildFund Kenya is targeting young children through existing structures we have in place on the ground, including health facilities and ECCD (early childhood care and development) centers, which are both home- and community-based. We’re also mobilizing our network of trained community health workers to deliver services and monitor child health. It is an efficient way to reach and serve this most vulnerable population. We’re also directing our services to expectant and lactating mothers as another means of ensuring we reach infants.

A number of interventions are under way. We are providing supplementary feeding in all ECCD centers in ChildFund’s seven operational areas: the North Rift region, the Lake region, Mt. Kenya region, Emali, Turkana, Mukuru and the Nairobi Integrated Project.

ChildFund staff check children's weight

ChildFund is monitoring the weight of children to spot undernutrition early. (Jake Lyell Photography)

In addition, we are trucking in potable water and setting up point-of-use water treatment stations, as well as providing training on hygiene and sanitation practices. Health interventions include monitoring child growth to spot malnutrition at the early stages, providing vitamin A and iron supplements, deworming and treating minor illnesses. We also are providing psychosocial support, which is essential to help children recover from the trauma as well as cope with the situation.

In all of our drought responses, we are linking up with any partners also working in the area, including the government and the World Food Program. We’re also positioning ChildFund to respond to an increase in drought severity anticipated in the next few months.

Already the malnutrition rates in Turkana stand at 37 percent — way above the 15 percent threshold established by WHO for emergency conditions. Interventions to improve the health status of children in these hard-hit areas, especially pastoralist populations, present a huge challenge. This population’s near-constant migration in search of food and water limits their children’s access to primary and emergency health services.

A different but equal challenge exists in Kenya’s urban areas. Due to hunger, children remain in the house instead of going to school. This limits their access to education and basic health care as well as nutrition support.

In Kenya’s worst-hit areas, we do not have the luxury of time. We must act now or consign huge numbers of our population to fate, and that is contrary to the spirit of our joint humanity and resolve.

Our commitment as front-line development workers is to save lives. Our appeal to citizens of the world is to respond to this call to save young children facing the ultimate risk.

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