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Africa's children need help

(China Daily)

09:00, September 20, 2011

The seven billionth citizen of our planet will likely be born next month. If he or she should be born in the Horn of Africa, a wretched life will unfortunately be almost guaranteed.

Worse, the seven billionth citizen may risk dying young because the situation for children on the continent remains dire. Africa is afflicted with the highest child mortality rate in the world and is plagued by disease.

The worst drought in 60 years and rising food prices are the main culprits of the current plight affecting large swaths of Somalia, Kenya, Djibouti and Ethiopia.

The crisis has affected 13 million people, with shockingly high rates of malnutrition and mortality among children, the UN says.

Among the nations in crisis, Somalia is the worst affected. According to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), 4 million Somalis, or more than half of the country's population, are in crisis.

The international community has stepped up efforts to provide aid since last month. OCHA says funding has gained momentum, reaching 80 percent of the UN's appeal.

China has announced that it would offer nearly $70 million in emergency grain aid to drought-stricken African countries, including a donation of $16 million in cash to the World Food Program to support its famine-relief operations in Somalia. Shipments of wheat and rice to drought and famine victims in the Horn of Africa have already left China.

Nevertheless, on Sept 14, Somalia's prime minister, Abdiweli Mohamed Ali, resumed his call for increased relief for his country, which is dealing with the severe consequences of a devastating famine. This should be met with action and increased worldwide awareness of the crisis in Africa.

A report released by the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) and the World Health Organization on Sept 15 said that one in eight sub-Saharan children die before reaching the age of five. In developed countries, the number is one in 143.

This has happened despite improvements around the world that have seen the number of children under five years old dying each year fall from more than 12 million in 1990 to 7.6 million last year.

As such, the condition of children living in hunger-stricken African countries is among the most pathetic in the world.

Helping save Africans should be one measure of the international community's conscience. The crisis in the region poses a big challenge as African development is key to realizing the UN's Millennium Development Goals for eradicating extreme poverty and hunger.

The international community needs to work out a long-term strategy so that its helping hand can be sustained and looked upon as a beacon for renewed hope for Africans in dire need.

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