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Food costs strain efforts to save starving Ethiopian children

  • Story Highlights
  • Drought and soaring food prices leaves Ethiopian children facing famine
  • UNICEF: Country is facing an open crisis
  • UNICEF is appealing for $50 million for Ethiopia's emergency needs
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By Wilf Dinnick
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EGU VILLAGE, Ethiopia (CNN) -- A year of drought and soaring food prices has threatened the lives of tens of thousands of Ethiopian children.

Tens of thousands of Ethiopian children are facing a severe risk of famine.

"We have nothing to feed our children," said Egu's village elder. "We are losing our children day by day."

Ethiopia's Health Ministry, along with UNICEF, monitors the health of thousands of children here, but the number of areas they have been able to regularly visit has been cut in half this year.

The small rains that normally allow Ethiopian farmers to plant a second crop each year did not come this year, adding to a critical food shortage.

"It's an open crisis, and there are more people than we expected, than the government expected, who need additional food," said Bjorn Ljungqvist, head of UNICEF Ethiopia.

There is a crucial shortfall in the supply of therapeutic foods used to treat children with severe acute malnutrition, the UNICEF official said.

The U.N.'s children's agency is appealing for $50 million to pay for emergency needs.

UNICEF estimates that 6 million Ethiopian children under the age of 5 are at risk and that more than 120,000 have only about a month to live.

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The World Food Program supplies the emergency food for UNICEF, but rising food prices mean it could not guarantee aid for all the areas in need.

"Unless you get immediate assistance the risk is, you fall into severe malnutrition and eventually death, so unless our supporters come in immediately for this, we fear that is what is going to happen in the country," said Jakob Mikkelse, the program's nutrition and education chief.

Egu is a village UNICEF is no longer able to visit regularly.

"If we were not here, those children who we had found now with severe acute malnutrition would have died at home," UNICEF Emergency Nutrition Project Officer Samson Dessie said.

As the relief workers depart Egu, they leave behind a few emergency food packs and a promise to return.

The Ethiopian government has worked with UNICEF since 2004 on the Enhanced Outreach Strategy to provide food for child survival. The effort distributes child survival packages that include vitamin A supplementation, de-worming, measles catch-up, nutritional screening and referral to supplementary or therapeutic feeding programs.

"EOS is really very important from many perspectives with regard to child survival," Dessie said. "The first is it brings high-impact, low-cost child survival packages like vitamin A, which can reduce child mortality by up to 35 percent."

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