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Drought through El Niño: hunger crises put children in mortal danger

Help malnourished girls and boys

Water and food are precious commodities in many African countries - especially when the El Niño weather phenomenon occurs and hits half the continent with full force. El Niño recurs at irregular intervals - every four years on average.

During an El Niño episode, extreme drought and drought alternate with torrential rains. The impact of the last El Niño period was dramatic crop failures in Ethiopia, Somalia, Swaziland, Lesotho, Malawi, Zimbabwe, Angola, Eritrea, Mozambique and Madagascar. According to UNICEF estimates, one million girls and boys were life-threateningly malnourished as a result of El Niño.

Marianna had lost everything due to the drought in 2015. The harvest failed so that she did not have enough food for her daughter Tamina. Tamina lost more and more weight and almost died. Fortunately, Marianna received therapeutic milk and peanut paste for Tamina at the health center - that was her salvation.

© UNICEF / UN011591 / Ayene

Hunger due to the radical crop failure and water shortage hit by El Niño precisely those countries in which many people already suffer from food insecurity and great poverty. Many people lose everything through El Niño: their cattle die of thirst, their fields wither. They leave their homeland and as refugees are looking for food, water and a safe place. In the El Niño years, people need our special help to protect their children and themselves from the dire consequences of poverty and malnutrition.

Babies particularly suffer from El Niño

Babies and toddlers always suffer particularly from the consequences of the El Niño climate phenomenon: families lack water and food. Small children in particular then lose weight very quickly. This makes them particularly susceptible to deadly diseases such as diarrhea, pneumonia, measles and malaria. Some malnourished children can hardly sit up on their own anymore because they are so weak. Those who are inadequately nourished over a long period of time are lagging behind in their overall mental and physical development. There is irreparable damage.

El Niño: This is how you can help with your donation

2,100 sachets of micronutrient powder
2,000 packets of ORS mixture for diarrhea
300 packets of therapeutic peanut paste

Drought as a result of El Niño in Africa - UNICEF helps on the ground

UNICEF provides the children who fell victim to El Niño with medicine, food and clean water so that they can regain their strength. UNICEF protects them against diseases such as measles, pneumonia, diarrhea and polio through vaccinations.

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How much does the scale show? Has the baby gained enough weight? This baby is one of the more than 400,000 children in Ethiopia alone who did not get enough to eat as a result of El Niño 2015/2016 and were thus dangerously malnourished.

© UNICEF / UN011586 / Ayene
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This is edward. His mother could no longer breastfeed him because of the shortage of food because she was too weak herself. As a result, like a large part of the Malawian population, he was malnourished and urgently needed additional food in order to survive.

© UNICEF / Malawi / 2016
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Water is absolutely in short supply during a drought: When other children play during the day, children in the Oromia region (Ethiopia) have to look for water. Families are waiting here to fill canisters with water so that they can be supplied for at least a few days.

© UNICEF / UN011590 / Ayene
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UNICEF has pumps installed to supply the local people with clean drinking water and to protect children from infections caused by contaminated water.

© UNICEF / UN011585 / Ayene
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Many children have to survive long distances with their families to get to the few watering holes. There they not only take care of themselves in a makeshift way, but also their animals - without knowing whether it will be enough the next time.

© UNICEF / UN011589 / Ayene
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If the dry season lasts long, many children can no longer go to school. Instead, they are forced to look for water. To escape the heat, they start their search at night and usually don't come back until the next day in the afternoon.

© UNICEF / UN011588 / Ayene
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Survival instead of living: This father in Ethiopia was waiting with his two daughters for their mother during the drought of 2016, who was looking for water during that time. He could not provide the children with food. One of the children lies listlessly in his arms, coughing.

© UNICEF / UN011587 / Ayene

What is El Niño?

El Niño is a natural global weather phenomenon that affects the lives and survival of millions of people. It is the warming of the surface of the sea water in the eastern tropical Pacific. For the past few decades, the phenomenon has occurred every two to seven years. It usually lasts six to 18 months.

The global effects of El Niño are dramatic: On the one hand, there are heavy rains, floods and landslides. In other parts of the world, on the other hand (especially in eastern and southern Africa) the urgently needed rains are missing: there El Niño leads to extreme drought and prolonged drought. As a result, entire harvests are lost and people lack their livelihoods.

The last difficult El Niño year was 2015/2016. According to NOAA (National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration), El Niño had the most devastating human impact in 2015/2016 since records began in 1950.

Help the victims of El Niño together with UNICEF

UNICEF helps children with food, safe drinking water and medicines. Our employees are active in all affected countries and help directly on site.