Extreme hunger is a horrific feeling. Millions are facing this predicament due to the current food crisis and severe droughts in the Sahel. As a current member of the UNICEF Campus Initiative Alumni Association, I am excited to support UNICEF and the children of Sahel through the Live Below the Line campaign. I invite you to join me on this campaign to live on a $1.50/day for food from May 7-11 and raise funds for UNICEF’s lifesaving work in the Sahel.
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Actress, recording artist, designer and UNICEF Ambassador Selena Gomez is lending her star power to avert the deaths of a million children from malnutrition in the Sahel region of West and Central Africa. “The situation is urgent and these children need our immediate help. I want people to know that together with UNICEF, we have the ability to prevent their deaths,” she said. Selena followed-up her online activism with a public service announcement to encourage young people to donate $10 via text to avoid catastrophe in the Sahel.
Walking through the door into the intensive care ward, I am struck by sensory overload – children’s cries come seemingly from every direction; medical staff buzzing around me, inserting a feeding tube here, testing for malaria there; and an oppressive 104 degree heat from which there is no escape. This is the Intensive Nutritional Rehabilitation Center (CRENI) in the village of Madarounfa, south-eastern Niger, a hospital where children under age 5 are treated for severe acute malnutrition with complicating medical conditions. I have been here before, but somehow it has been transformed. Apart from the building structure itself and the familiar faces of the doctors and nurses, it is a different place entirely, almost unrecognizable. As I adjust to the scene around me, I realize what has changed. When I was here three months ago, there were only six children undergoing treatment for severe acute malnutrition. Today, all 28 hospital beds are occupied.
It is a microcosm of the worsening crisis across the Sahel region of Africa, where drought, poor harvests and rising food prices have left an estimated 1 million children at risk of death from malnutrition.
The children of the Sahel are closer than you think. We are not hundreds but thousands of miles away from the unraveling crisis threatening the survival of 1 million children in the Sahel! I can feel the pain and the impossible choices that families thousands of miles away continue to face each passing day and the urgent assistance they need. Colleagues and partners in each of the eight country offices in the region diligently collate and share updates of the situation on the ground. UNICEF offices across the world receive Situation Reports or as we say in internal speak SitReps describing in great detail the first-hand on-ground realities and needs. The situation reports are our information lifeline.
These internal reports continue to be delivered to our inboxes and continue to warn us of the worsening situation and the need for urgent immediate aid to save 1 million children.
To really give you a sense of what’s happening on the ground I wanted to share a SitRep covering all the eight countries and the overall situation.
We thank you for helping us sound the alarm but our work is far from done. We need your support to continue to raise awareness for the crisis and to help ensure the survival of the 1 million children standing on the brink of death and disease as a result of the food and nutrition crisis.
When a million children can be saved from life-threatening malnutrition, I believe it’s our duty to alert the world and ask for help. If we wait for the situation to deteriorate, we are allowing more children to slide further down the spectrum of malnutrition to life-threatening levels. UNICEF is focused on the smallest, the sickest and the most gravely ill – the ones who are so malnourished they are unable to eat regular food. We can’t afford to wait until the crisis reaches hideous levels – we can stop this from happening – we can stop children from suffering and dying if we can raise the funds needed to respond to the need.
There is much talk these days of reaching the unreached. But as I drive with UNICEF colleagues through the remote Hodh Gharbi scrubland in Mauritania, in north-west Africa’s Sahel region, there is little sign of any outside effort making its way here where the whimpers and restlessness – the signs of hunger – haunt the mothers in one scattered home after another. UNICEF estimates that across the eight countries of the Sahel, more than a million children are at risk of severe malnutrition, which can quickly lead to death if left untreated. The hope of the government here and humanitarian agencies is to respond now and thus avoid the horrific pictures of mass starvation, worsening poverty and social dislocation that could come if nothing is done.