As famine is declared in parts of South Sudan and a devastating food crisis threaten 20 million lives across Africa and neighbouring Yemen, UNHCR is already on the ground delivering emergency nutrition and protection in every country affected. Across the region, stabilisation centres, such as this one in Kenya, are treating severely malnourished refugees as they arrive seeking protection.

For the past three years, the Kakuma refugee settlement in Kenya has received large influxes of refugees from war-torn South Sudan. UNHCR immediately assesses the health of new arrivals at its reception centre to help identify the most vulnerable.

Already under nourished in South Sudan, they have survived on little but roots and leaves on their journey to the Kenyan border. Those diagnosed as severely malnourished, many of whom are women and children, are referred to the Stabilisation Centre for emergency feeding and treatment.

A mother feeds her child at Kakuma’s stabilisation centre.

Image © Australia for UNHCR

With South Sudan’s Unity State officially in famine and many other parts of the country suffering severe food shortages, nutrition facilities like this one in Kakuma are now in crisis mode. Mothers wait for assistance, holding their tiny babies in their arms, as health workeers administer emergency nutrition that will save lives.

Australia for UNHCR’s National Director, Naomi Steer, regularly visits Kakuma and has worked on the ground in famine situations.

“My gravest fears during any food crisis are for young infants,” explains Naomi. “Their small bodies make them more vulnerable to malnutrition, dysentery and dehydration. With their mothers no longer able to produce breast milk, babies can miss out on essential nutrients and the protection they offer against infection and disease.”

Mothers at Kakuma’s stabilisation centre feed their babies with emergency nutrition.

Image © Australia for UNHCR

Children arriving at the camp are now showing the symptoms of starvation: emaciated limbs, swollen bellies, dry skin and lethargy.

This is the case for 5-month-old Anyahou, the smallest and weakest baby in the group, who is also suffering from malaria. He will stay in the ward for at least two weeks and receive tube feeding and intravenous fluids. The other babies will immediately undergo an 8 to 10 day regime of enriched milk formula before being put onto Plumpy’Nut™, a high calorie therapeutic paste widely used to treat severely malnourished children.

Despite the severity of the children’s condition, the recovery rate for malnutrition cases at the Kakuma Stabilisation Centre is an amazing 98 per cent. However, without treatment, severely malnourished infants are at risk of death or lifelong health problems like stunting and cognitive impairment.

Paediatric nurses administer life-saving aid to rebuild strength in severely malnourished infants and babies.

Image © Australia for UNHCR

Australia for UNCHR has launched an emergency appeal to raise funds for immediate use in the growing African food crisis. Your donation today will UNHCR deliver emergency nutrition, and help fund stabilisation centres and medical practitioners. 

As the food crisis deepens, millions are at risk of severe malnutrition. Yemen, Somalia and parts of Nigeria are on the brink of famine, while food rations have been cut by as much as 50% in refugee settlements across Cameroon, Chad, Kenya, Mauritania, Sudan, Uganda, Burkina Faso, Djibouti, Burundi and Ethiopia.

At the UN Security Council this month, the mounting food emergency was described as the greatest humanitarian crisis since World War Two. UNHCR teams are already deployed but the sheer scale of the crisis is far outstripping available funding.

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