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U.N. Official Warns Millions At Risk Of Starvation In African Sahel

“Millions of people in Africa’s turbulent Sahel region are on the brink of starvation due to drought and conflict, the United Nations said on Wednesday, and aid response plans are less than 40 percent funded ahead of an expected crisis peak,” Reuters reports (3/29). Following a week-long trip to Niger, Burkina Faso and Mauritania, John Ging, director of operations at the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), said, “This is already an appalling crisis in terms of the scale and degree of human suffering and it will get worse unless the response plans are properly funded. … It’s a matter of life or death for millions who are on the brink,” according to the U.N. News Centre. “More than 15 million people in the Sahel are directly affected by worsening food shortages and malnutrition brought on by the ongoing drought, which has been compounded by conflict and insecurity,” the news service writes, noting that Ging added, “More than 200,000 children died of malnutrition last year and over one million are threatened with severe acute malnutrition right now” (3/28).

Mysterious Kidney Disease ‘Devastating’ Central America’s Pacific Coast, AP Reports

The Associated Press/Seattle Times reports on a “mysterious epidemic [that] is devastating the Pacific Coast of Central America, killing more than 24,000 people in El Salvador and Nicaragua since 2000 and striking thousands of others with chronic kidney disease at rates unseen virtually anywhere else.” The news service provides statistics regarding kidney disease in various Central American countries, quotes a number of experts regarding potential causes of the disease and notes, “While some of the rising numbers may be from better record-keeping, scientists believe they are facing something deadly and previously unknown to medicine.”

More Than 1M Children Under Age 5 At Risk Of Malnutrition In Sahel, UNICEF Warns

“The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) is warning that more than a million children below the age of five in the Sahel are facing a disaster amid the ongoing food crisis in the drought-prone region of Africa,” the U.N. News Centre reports (3/16). “‘More extreme conditions could see this number rise to about 1.5 million and the problem is that funding is not coming in at the rate that we need in order to prepare properly,’ [UNICEF spokesperson Marixie Mercado] said. ‘So far we have received just one-fifth of the $119 million we have asked for in 2012,'” VOA News writes (3/16).

Syrian Government To Allow U.N. To Conduct Survey Of Basic Medical Needs In 4 Crisis-Hit Areas

“The Syrian government will allow the United Nations to assess the basic medical needs of Syrians in four areas where opposition forces have clashed with government troops and to also carry out a preliminary humanitarian needs assessment, officials said Friday,” the Associated Press/Huffington Post reports. WHO spokesperson “Tarik Jasarevic says a ‘very preliminary and basic survey’ overseen by his agency and the U.N. Population Fund will be carried out next week with the cooperation of Syria’s health ministry,” the news service writes.

USAID Committed To Early Action On Sahel Drought, Drawing From Lessons From Horn Response

“A year after the worst drought in 60 years sent 13.3 million people in the Horn of Africa into crisis, we are now facing a rising threat of crisis in the Sahel — an arid belt that stretches from Senegal through Niger and Burkina Faso to Chad,” Nancy Lindborg, head of democracy, conflict, and humanitarian assistance at USAID, writes in this post in Huffington Post’s “The Blog.” She notes, “Today, rising food prices, another failed rain, and conflict in Mali and Libya, means that between seven and 10 million people are at risk of sliding into crisis as we enter the lean season of the months ahead,” and writes, “As we focus on the rising crisis in the Sahel, we are committed to responding immediately and acting on the most important lessons learned from the Horn response.”

Lack Of Aid Money In Haiti Threatening Health, Human Rights Of Displaced People, U.N. Official Warns

“The United Nations warned on Tuesday that a lack of aid money for Haiti was putting hundreds of thousands of displaced people at risk by forcing humanitarian agencies to cut services in one of the world’s poorest countries,” Reuters reports. Noting Haiti only received half of the $382 million aid request in 2011 and so far has received only 10 percent of this year’s $231 million appeal, Nigel Fisher, the U.N. humanitarian coordinator in Haiti, said, “(Underfunding) threatens to reverse gains achieved in the fight against cholera through the promotion of sanitary and hygiene practices. … It threatens the very existence of hundreds of thousands of (displaced people) living in camps,” according to the news agency. “Fisher said the humanitarian community was urgently requesting $53.9 million for the April-June period to protect those living in camps and to continue to provide services such as clean water, food and crime prevention and respond to cholera outbreaks, among other things,” Reuters writes (Nichols, 3/27).

Delayed Response To Food Crisis, Pipeline Constraints Leave Thousands Without Food Aid In Chad

“Late Chadian government recognition of a food crisis, a slow build-up from aid agencies, and severe pipeline constraints due to closed Libyan and Nigerian borders mean food aid has not yet arrived in Chad, despite many thousands of people having already run out of food,” IRIN reports. “While staff in agencies such as the World Food Programme (WFP) are working furiously to beat the clock, a lead time of up to six months to get food to where it is needed means that the very soonest food will start to arrive is sometime in April,” the news service adds.

Study Examines Relationship Between Conflict, Rise In NTDs In Middle East, North Africa

A study published in PLoS Neglected Tropical Disease on Tuesday examines the relationship between political conflict in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region and “the spread or re-emergence of a variety of tropical diseases — some previously eliminated or controlled — affecting an estimated 65 million people” in the region, VOA News reports (Sinha, 3/1). “The report, authored by global health leaders Dr. Peter Hotez, Dr. Lorenzo Savioli and professor Alan Fenwick, reveals the high prevalence and uneven distribution of [neglected tropical diseases (NTDs)] such as schistosomiasis, lymphatic filiariasis, dengue fever and Rift Valley fever in the MENA region and suggests opportunities for NTD control, especially in high-risk populations in Egypt and Yemen,” the Global Network for Neglected Tropical Diseases writes in an article on its website.

Political Instability, Humanitarian Crises Reversing Maternal Health Gains In Africa, Health Experts Warn

“Political instability, civil strife and humanitarian crises in Africa have over the past decades reversed countless maternal health development gains on the continent, health experts warn,” Inter Press Service reports. “‘African countries with good maternal health statistics are generally those that have long-term political stability. This shows that stability is a fundamental basis for development. If it doesn’t exist, other priorities overtake,’ Lucien Kouakou, regional director of the International Planned Parenthood Foundation (IPPF) in Africa, told IPS,” the news service writes.

IRIN Examines Malnutrition In Chad

IRIN examines malnutrition in Chad, writing, “Hovering at around 20 percent in some places, Kanem Region in western Chad is well-known for having some of the world’s highest continual severe acute malnutrition rates,” and, “unless something is done to improve the country’s ‘dysfunctional’ health system (as described by half a dozen interviewees), these malnutrition rates are unlikely to change significantly.” The news service “spoke to Ministry of Health staff, aid workers, government officials and mothers to find out if anything can be done to wean Chad from its dependence on emergency nutrition interventions.”