NAIROBI – The UN Children’s Fund, also known as UNICEF, warned Tuesday that children in the Horn of Africa and the Sahel region could die in devastating numbers as much facing water insecurity.
The number of people without access to safe water in Ethiopia, Kenya and Somalia has increased dramatically 16.2 million from 9.5 million, the organization said. This has led to severe malnutrition and an increase in serious water-borne diseases.
“When water either isn’t available or is unsafe, the risks to children multiply exponentially,” UNICEF Executive Director Catherine Russell said. “Across the Horn of Africa and the Sahel, millions of children are just one disease away from catastrophe.”
Tuesday’s warning comes as World Water Week begins in Stockholm. Forth million children face high levels of water vulnerability and more children in the Sahel region die from unsafe water than in any other part of the world, UNICEF said.
In Kenya, more than 90% of open water sources in drought-affected areas either are depleted or drying up.
Water availability across the Sahel has dropped by more than 40% over the last 20 years, largely due to climate change. This has led to increases in diseases like cholera, UNICEF said.
“Families across drought-impacted regions are being forced into impossible choices,” Russell said. “The only way to stop this crisis is for governments, donors, and the international community to step up funding to meet children’s most acute needs and provide long-term flexible support to break the cycle of crisis.”