Early Childhood Development- Investing in the seeds of tomorrow’s fruits

Gillian Mellsop, UNICEF Representative to Ethiopia

‘Children are today’s flowers and tomorrow’s fruit’ is a saying in Ethiopia and there is no better investment that cultivates the fruit and speaks to the ‘right in principle and right in practice’ mantra more than early childhood development.

Parents and communities want the best for their children and understand that the early years of a child’s life are crucial. However, they may not have the means or the knowledge on how to ensure their next generation best thrives.

Last week, the latest offering from the world-renowned Lancet, Advancing Early Childhood Development: from Science to Scale, showed that almost one in two – 43 per cent – of children under five in low-and middle-income countries are at risk of not achieving their cognitive potential. No country can risk losing nearly half of the brain potential of its youngest citizens – low- and middle-income countries least of all.

Advances in neuroscience show that experiences in early childhood have a profound impact on brain development and on subsequent learning and health. Children who are poorly nourished and nurtured, or those who do not receive early stimulation, are likely to learn less in school and go on to earn less as adults.

In Ethiopia, over 5 million children are stunted which has a serious impact on human development and economic growth. And currently, the most disadvantaged children in rural and hard to reach communities are either coming to grade 1 without having the necessary preparation or are enrolling late – under 40 per cent of children in Ethiopia have access to pre-school provision. Once in primary education, many are at risk of dropping out of school too early.

The good news is that early childhood development interventions, including parenting and care programmes, cost as little as 50 cents (US$) per child per year, when combined with existing services such as health – according to the Lancet Series. And much of what needs to be done at the community level can be achieved by mothers and fathers, grandparents, siblings and caregivers.

The findings in the Series underscore the importance of increased global dedication to early childhood development. Earlier this year, World Bank Group President Jim Yong Kim and UNICEF Executive Director Anthony Lake signalled a renewed commitment to prioritizing investments in the youngest children when they announced a new alliance urging global and national leaders to step up and accelerate action and funding for nutrition and early childhood development (ECD) programmes. The Lancet estimates that individuals who suffer a loss of about a quarter of average adult income per year, while countries may forfeit up to as much as two times their current GDP expenditures on health or education. Consequences of inaction impact not only present but future generations.

Drought response in Afar - UK AID
Zebiba Meher feeds her son Ready to Use Therapeutic Food (RUTF) for the past four months. Now the nutritional status of eleven-month-old Bedru has improved from severe to moderate acute malnutrition. He is a much healthier and happier child now. Dubti health center, Afar region, Ethiopia. 25-August-2016 ©UNICEF Ethiopia/2016/Ayene

When children have the opportunity to develop their cognitive capacity, they will pass similar or even better opportunities to their children when they grow up.  Increasing investment in Ethiopia’s young children can break the vicious cycle of intergenerational poverty.

Therefore, prioritizing ECD at the national level is a way for governments to stimulate economic growth. Evidence suggests that every dollar invested in quality ECD programmes brings a return of between US$6 and US$17. Moreover, research by

Nobel Laureate James Heckman found that the rate of return for investments in quality early childhood development for disadvantaged children is 7-10 per cent per annum through better outcomes in education, health, sociability, economic productivity and reduced crime.

This year, the importance of interventions in early childhood was also recognized by the inclusion of an ECD target in the Sustainable Development Goals – indeed, this is the first time ECD has been explicitly included in global development goals. SDG Target 4.2 aims to increase the percentage of children under 5 years of age who are developmentally on track in health, learning and psychosocial well-being.

For many children, lack of educational support at home is one of the biggest obstacles to reaching their full potential. In light of differing needs of families, a range of early childhood education services are offered in Ethiopia, including kindergarten, pre-primary class (‘O-class’) and several school readiness programmes. Parenting education programmes are also provided so families can learn about the importance of early nutrition, hygiene, care and stimulation.

The evidence presented this past week, combined with the current momentum globally, speaks for itself. We are well versed in the elements that affect the development of children’s brains – good nourishment, stimulated minds, and protection from violence. It is now vital that we use this growing body of evidence to effect real changes for children, at both the community and policy levels.

Early child development has to be put on the agenda for children’s rights. In Ethiopia, UNICEF, with the support from partners, takes an integrated approach to addressing early childhood development within Ethiopia’s Early Childhood Care Education Policy.

We owe it to our future generations to prioritize and invest in young children. It is our moral, economic, and social imperative to enable all children to reach their full potential.

Girls spend 160 million more hours than boys doing household chores everyday – UNICEF 

 NEW YORK/ ADDIS ABABA, 7 October, 2016 – Girls between 5 and 14 years old spend 40 per cent more time, or 160 million more hours a day, on unpaid household chores and collecting water and firewood compared to boys their age, according to a report released by UNICEF ahead of International Day of the Girl on 11 October.

Harnessing the Power of Data for Girls: Taking stock and looking ahead to 2030 includes the first global estimates on the time girls spend doing household chores such as cooking, cleaning, caring for family members and collecting water and firewood.

The data show that the disproportionate burden of domestic work begins early, with girls between 5 and 9 years old spending 30 per cent more time, or 40 million more hours a day, on household chores than boys their age. The numbers rise as girls get older, with 10 to 14 year olds spending 50 per cent more time, or 120 million more hours each day.   

“The overburden of unpaid household work begins in early childhood and intensifies as girls reach adolescence,” said UNICEF’s Principal Gender Advisor Anju Malhotra.  “As a result, girls sacrifice important opportunities to learn, grow, and just enjoy their childhood. This unequal distribution of labour among children also perpetuates gender stereotypes and the double-burden on women and girls across generations.”

The report notes that girls’ work is less visible and often undervalued. Too often adult responsibilities such as caring for family members, including other children, are imposed on girls. Time spent on chores limits a girl’s time to play, socialize with friends, study and be a child. In some countries, collecting firewood and water puts girls at risk of sexual violence.

The report also found that:

  • Girls between 10 and 14 years old in South Asia and the Middle East and North Africa spend nearly double the amount of time on household chores compared to boys.
  • The countries where girls between 10 and 14 years old bear the most disproportionate burden of household chores compared to boys are; Burkina Faso, Yemen and Somalia.
  • 10 to 14 year-old girls in Somalia spend the most amount of time on household chores in total: 26 hours every week. 

“Quantifying the challenges girls face is the first critical step towards meeting the Sustainable Development Goal on gender equality and breaking-down barriers that confront the world’s 1.1 billion girls,” said UNICEF Chief of Data and Analytics Attila Hancioglu.

Harnessing the Power of Data for Girls: Taking stock and looking ahead to 2030 notes that data for two thirds of the 44 girl-related indicators in the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) – the global roadmap to end poverty, protect the planet and ensure prosperity for all – are either limited or poor. In addition to household chores, the report presents data on girl-related issues addressed by the SDGs including violence, child marriage, female genital mutilation and education. Achieving the SDGs that address these issues and empowering girls with the knowledge, skills and resources they need to reach their full potential, is not only good for girls, but can drive economic growth, promote peace and reduce poverty


In Ethiopia, girls face a multiplicity of social and structural barriers in all the developmental domains hindering their capacity to seize opportunities and make strategic life choices that will enable them realize their full potential.  The limited age and gender disaggregated data and evidence available in the country shades light to some of these challenges. For example, girls carry a heavy burden of household chores and fall behind their class and unable to follow their education.

Female children under age 15 are about three times more likely than male children to fetch drinking water (EDHS: 2011) http://www.unicef.org/ethiopia/ET_2011_EDHS.pdf

In addition, forty one percent of women aged 20-24 were married by the age of 18 (EDHS: 2011). Girls age 0-14 are exposed to FGM/C with prevalence as high as 60 per cent in the Afar region (Welfare Monitoring Survey: 2011).

In its recently adopted country programme strategy (2016-2020), UNICEF has incorporated an outcome on adolescent girls’ and has developed a girls’ strategy to strengthen the efforts of the Government of Ethiopia to empower girls and free them from child marriage and FGM/C by 2025.   

Five in six children under two not getting enough nutrition for growth and brain development – UNICEF

 NEW YORK/ ADDIS ABABA, 14 October 2016 – Five in six children under two years old are not fed enough nutritious food for their age, depriving them of the energy and nutrients they need at the most critical time in their physical and cognitive development, according to a new UNICEF report.

“Infants and young children have the greatest nutrient needs than at any other time in life. But the bodies and brains of millions of young children do not reach their full potential because they are receiving too little food, too late,” said France Begin, Senior Nutrition Adviser at UNICEF. “Poor nutrition at such a young age causes irreversible mental and physical damage.”

UNICEF data show that poor nutritional practices– including the delayed introduction of solid foods, infrequent meals and lack of food variety – are widespread, depriving children of essential nutrients when their growing brains, bones and bodies need them the most. The findings reveal that: 

  • Young children wait too long for their first bites. One in five babies hasn’t been fed any solid foods by the age of 11 months.
  • Half of children aged six months to two years are not fed the minimum number of meals for their age, increasing their risk of stunting.
  • Less than one-third of children in this age group eat a diverse diet – meaning from four or more food groups daily – causing deficiencies in vitamins and minerals.
  • Almost half of pre-school aged children suffer from anaemia.
  • Only half of children aged six to 11 months receive any foods from animal sources – including fish, meat, eggs and dairy – which are essential to supply zinc and iron.
  • The high cost of foods from animal sources makes it difficult for the poorest families to improve their children’s diet. In Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia, only one in six children from the poorest households aged six to 11 months eats a minimally diverse diet, compared to one in three from the richest households.
  • Improving nutrition for young children could save 100,000 lives a year.

Making nutritious foods affordable and accessible to the poorest children will require stronger and more targeted investments from governments and the private sector. Cash or in-kind transfers to vulnerable families; crop diversification programmes; and fortification of staple foods are key to improving nutrition for young children. Community-based health services that help caregivers learn better feeding practices, and safe water and sanitation – absolutely critical in preventing diarrhoea among children – are also vital.

“We cannot afford to fail in our fight to improve nutrition for young children. Their ability to grow, learn and contribute to their country’s future depends on it,” Begin said. 

Ethiopia has experienced rapid, sustained improvement in under-nutrition during the past 15 years. For example, the country has seen a steady reduction in stunting – the fastest rate of improvement in Africa – and a decline in the percentage of underweight and wasted children. Yet, Ethiopia remains in a precarious situation, with large absolute numbers of affected children: 5.3 million children are stunted and 1.2 million children suffer wasting. UNICEF’s nutrition programme collaborates with the Government of Ethiopia to reduce these numbers further, working on multi-sectoral coordination to improve the nutrition of all children, pregnant and lactating women and their families

The Government of Ethiopia recognizes that addressing malnutrition is essential to achieving sustainable development. It therefore has issued the Seqota Declaration to end child malnutrition by 2030. The Declaration lays out a plan to stop the cycle of under-nutrition by bringing together all sectors of the Government, paying particular attention to the importance of nutrition during pregnancy and in the first years of a child’s life. 

Over the past decade, Ethiopia has seen a steady reduction in stunting from 58 per cent in 2000 to 40 per cent 2014, in the percentage of underweight children from 41 per cent to 25 per cent, and in wasting from 12 per cent to 9 percent (Mini EDHS: 2014) 

These trends indicate an improvement in chronic malnutrition over the past 15 years. Yet, 28 per cent of child deaths in Ethiopia is associated with under-nutrition. In addition to this high contribution to the under-five mortality rate, high prevalence of various forms of malnutrition among vulnerable groups in Ethiopia has serious implications for social development and economic growth. In a study conducted in 2009, the total annual cost of under-nutrition was estimated at US$2,775,000, equivalent to 17 per cent of the country’s GDP in 2009.

UNICEF’s strategies for nutrition ensure the achievements of results in four areas: 1) upstream nutrition policy support and multi-sectoral engagement; 2) improved nutrition knowledge and caring behaviours; 3) strengthening of systems for nutrition service delivery; and 4) strengthening partner capacities to respond to nutrition in humanitarian crises.

To accelerate the reduction of chronic and acute malnutrition, UNICEF is working in partnership with sectoral government counterparts, including in health, agriculture, education, social protection, trade and industry, and women, children and youth affairs.

UNICEF also works with United Nations agencies such as the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA), World Food Programme (WFP) and World Health Organization (WHO); UNICEF National Committees; donors such as the aid agencies of Canada, Ireland, Japan, the Netherlands, Spain, the United Kingdom and the United States, as well as the European Union; civil society organizations; and local and international academic institutions.

Nearly 385 million children living in extreme poverty, says joint World Bank Group – UNICEF study

NEW YORK/ADDIS ABABA04 October 2016 – Children are more than twice as likely as adults to live in extreme poverty, according to a new analysis from the World Bank Group and UNICEF. Ending Extreme Poverty: A Focus on Children finds that in 2013 19.5 per cent of children in developing countries were living in households that survived on an average of US$1.90 a day or less per person, compared to just 9.2 per cent of adults.  Globally, almost 385 million children were living in extreme poverty.

Children are disproportionately affected, as they make up around a third of the population studied, but half of the extreme poor. The youngest children are the most at risk – with more than one-fifth of children under the age of five in the developing world living in extremely poor households.

“Children are not only more likely to be living in extreme poverty; the effects of poverty are most damaging to children.  They are the worst off of the worst off – and the youngest children are the worst off of all, because the deprivations they suffer affect the development of their bodies and their minds,” said UNICEF Executive Director Anthony Lake. “It is shocking that half of all children in sub-Saharan Africa and one in five children in developing countries are growing up in extreme poverty.  This not only limits their futures, it drags down their societies.”

The new analysis comes on the heels of the release of the World Bank Group’s new flagship study, Poverty and Shared Prosperity 2016: Taking on Inequality, which found that some 767 million people globally were living on less than $1.90 per day in 2013, half of them under the age of 18. 

“The sheer number of children in extreme poverty points to a real need to invest specifically in the early years—in services such as pre-natal care for pregnant mothers, early childhood development programs, quality schooling, clean water, good sanitation, and universal health care,” said Ana Revenga, Senior Director, Poverty and Equity at the World Bank Group. “Improving these services, and ensuring that today’s children can access quality job opportunities when the time comes, is the only way to break the cycle of intergenerational poverty that is so widespread today.”

The global estimate of extreme child poverty is based on data from 89 countries, representing 83 per cent of the developing world’s population.

Sub-Saharan Africa has both the highest rates of children living in extreme poverty at just under 50 per cent, and the largest share of the world’s extremely poor children, at just over 50 per cent.  South Asia has the second highest share at nearly 36 per cent—with over 30 per cent of extremely poor children living in India alone. More than four out of five children in extreme poverty live in rural areas.   

In addition, the report reveals that even at higher thresholds, poverty also affects children disproportionately.  About 45 per cent of children are living in households subsisting on less than $3.10 a day per person, compared with nearly 27 per cent of adults.

UNICEF and the World Bank Group are calling on governments to:

  • Routinely measure child poverty at the national and subnational level and focus on children in national poverty reduction plans as part of efforts to end extreme poverty by 2030.
  • Strengthen child-sensitive social protection systems, including cash transfer programs that directly help poor families to pay for food, health care, education and other services that protect children from the impact of poverty and improve their chances of breaking the cycle in their own lives.  
  • Prioritize investments in education, health, clean water, sanitation and infrastructure that benefit the poorest children, as well as those that help prevent people from falling back into poverty after setbacks like droughts, disease or economic instability.   
  • Shape policy decisions so that economic growth benefits the poorest children. 
  • UNICEF and the World Bank Group are working with partners to interrupt cycles of poverty and to promote early childhood development – with programs ranging from cash transfers, to nutrition, healthcare and education.


 Ethiopia specific information:

  • There are 13 million Ethiopian children who live in poor households, 2 million of whom live in extreme poverty.
  • Children are more severely affected by poverty (32.4 per cent) and extreme poverty (5.2 per cent) than adults (29.6 per cent and 4.5 per cent, respectively).
  • The poorest children are found in households whose head is employed in the informal sector. 13.1 per cent of these children live in extreme poverty.

UNICEF calls for an increase in education spending as new report reveals global crisis in learning

NEW YORK, 18 September 2016 – More than two-thirds of schoolchildren in low-income countries will not learn basic primary level skills in 2030 despite an ambitious goal to get every child in school and learning, according to a report launched today by the International Commission on Financing Global Education Opportunity.

The Learning Generation: Investing in Education for a Changing World notes that without an urgent increase in education investments by national governments, children in low-income countries will remain trapped in intergenerational cycles of poverty and be left without the skills and knowledge they need to contribute to their societies and economies when they reach adulthood.

“Every child, in every country, in every neighbourhood, in every household, has the right not only to a seat in a classroom, but to a quality education – starting in the early years of life, the single most important stage of brain development,” said UNICEF Executive Director Anthony Lake. “We need to invest early, invest in quality, and invest in equity – or pay the price of a generation of children condemned to grow up without the knowledge and skills they need to reach their potential.”

The report shows that more than 1.5 billion adults will have no education beyond primary school in 2030. UNICEF backs the recommendations made in the report and calls for an increase in national education expenditure from 3 per cent to 5 per cent to help address what could be a global education crisis.

Other key findings from the report:

  • Only half of primary-aged schoolchildren and little more than a quarter of secondary-aged schoolchildren in low- and middle-income countries are learning basic skills.
  • 330 million primary and secondary school students do not achieve even the most basic learning outcomes.
  • The crisis is growing as populations grow – there will be an estimated 1.4 billion school-age children in low- and middle-income countries by 2030.
  • Twice as many girls as boys will never start school.

“We face the civil rights struggle of our generation – the demand of young people for their right to education and the ticking time bomb of discontent that results from the betrayal of the hopes of half of an entire generation,” said Chair of the Education Commission and UN Special Envoy for Global Education Gordon Brown. “We cannot accept another year or decade like this. The Commission aims to unlock the biggest expansion of educational opportunity in modern history.”

# # #

Notes to Editors:

A Financing Compact for the Learning Generation: 12 recommendations to get all children learning

I.Performance – Successful education systems put results front and center

  • Set standards, track progress and make information public
  • Invest in what delivers the best results
  • Cut waste

II. Innovation – Successful education systems develop new and creative approaches to achieving results

  • Strengthen and diversify the education workforce
  • Harness technology for teaching and learning
  • Improve partnerships with non-state actors

III. Inclusion – Successful education systems reach everyone, including the most disadvantaged and marginalized

  • Prioritise the poor and early years – progressive universalism
  • Invest across sectors to tackle the factors preventing learning

IV.Finance – Successful education systems require more and better investment

  • Mobilize more and better domestic resources for education
  • Increase the international financing of education and improve its effectiveness
  • Establish a Multilateral Development Bank (MDB) investment mechanism for education
  • Ensure leadership and accountability for the Learning Generation

Ethiopia specific information:

With the interest of gauging learning outcomes as a means of measuring the quality of education, the country has institutionalised National Learning Assessments (NLA) along with early grade reading and mathematics assessment. Successive reports of the NLA showed low learning outcomes at Grades 4 and 8, signifying access to education has not been accompanied by quality.

Five national sample learning assessments for Grades 4 and 8 indicated that only half of the students at Grades 4 and 8 met the achievements expected -50 per cent- of their grade levels. The recent NLA report showed students’ achievement to be below the required level with 42.9 per cent and 43.5 per cent for the two grades respectively (National Learning Assessment, Ministry of Education: 2013).

About The International Commission on Financing Global Education Opportunity

The International Commission on Financing Global Education Opportunity (The Education Commission) is a major global initiative engaging world leaders, policy makers and researchers to develop a renewed and compelling investment case and financing pathway for achieving equal educational opportunity for children and young people.

This report is the culmination of a year-long analysis involving over 30 research institutions and consultations with 300 partners across 105 countries.

The report is available at: http://report.educationcommission.org

For more information, please contact:

Georgina Thompson, UNICEF New York, Mobile: + 1 917 238 1559, gthompson@unicef.org

Alexandra Westerbeek, UNICEF Ethiopia, +251 911 255109 awesterbeek@unicef.org 



After a harrowing journey, a bittersweet homecoming for Ethiopian migrant children

By Christine Yohannes

ADDIS ABABA, 29 June 2016–One year ago, 14-year-old Tesfaye* set off from his hometown of Hadiya in the Southern Nations, Nationalities, and Peoples’ Region of Ethiopia towards South Africa. Like many young people, Tesfaye sought what he thought would be a brighter future abroad.

Unfortunately for Tesfaye, his journey came to an abrupt halt after one month when he was arrested in Zambia. Along with 39 other Ethiopian children, he was charged under the Anti-Human Trafficking Act that prescribes a minimum mandatory sentence of 15 years for smuggling or consenting to be smuggled.

UNICEF- IOM partnership assisted voluntary returning children to Ethiopia
Tesfaye 15 and one of the youngest from the returnees is slowly readjusting to the possibility of reuniting with the family he had decided to leave behind. He is now finding relief in the piece of paper as he draws and writes his past struggles to be a living example to his peers who would consider a similar escape. UNICEF in collaboration with IOM returns children from third countries. Which is facilitated through a Cooperation Agreement signed between the two agencies since 2013 and renewed in 2016. This collaboration supports the Government of Ethiopia’s (GoE) Safe Return and Reunification Programme for Unaccompanied and Migrant Children. ©UNICEF Ethiopia/2016/Tsegaye

Although he was not yet 15 at the time, Tesfaye was tried as a 23-year-old because of the eight-year difference between Gregorian calendar used in most of the world, including Zambia, and the Julian calendar used in Ethiopia. Tesfaye was unable to explain the situation due to his limited English and was subsequently convicted and jailed in Mukobeko Maximum Security Prison in Kabwe, which houses adult criminal offenders,along with other children who had been detained.

A long  journey

In response to news of this detainment, UNICEF and the International Organization for Migration (IOM) worked together with the Zambian Human Rights Commission and Zambian officials to get the children released from prison and sent home. Following high level advocacy and personal commitment from IOM and UNICEF staff members, all 39 children were pardoned by the Zambian President.

IOM Zambia provided support to the Zambian authorities to ensure that protection assistance, including safe shelter and medical assistance was provided to all children once they were released from prison. Their first stop for these children once in Ethiopia is the IOM Assisted Voluntary Return and Reintegration (AVRR) Transit Centre, which is operated in close collaboration with UNICEF and the Government of Ethiopia, in Addis Ababa. The centre receives some 100 to 200 unaccompanied minors every month who have returned from other transit or destination countries.

UNICEF supports the Ethiopian Bureau of Women and Children Affairs with trained social workers to conduct documentation, family identification and reunification of the children. The social workers provide psychosocial support services at the transit center and accompany the children to their families, where they also provide a reunification grant to each child’s family.

Although Tesfaye is now safe in the IOM Transit Centre, he will not soon forget the ordeal he went through. He says, “I want to teach and raise awareness for others that might try to do this,” adding, “It should stop with me!”

Dreams cut short

Jacky* 17, also from Hadiya, was a straight-A student with big dreams for his future when he left home in search of better opportunities. “I do not blame my country for my decision to leave and for trying my luck in South Africa,” he says.

He recalls 25 days of travelling on foot, his subsequent arrest and confinement in a prison room shared with over 200 other detainees, going days without food and enduring brutality and theft.

“I sold my cow and my inherited share of my father’s land to pay for my trip, only to be arrested a 120km from my destination,” said Jacky. “I had high hopes for my future in South Africa but being exposed to deadly diseases in prison made me realize that it is worth striving for a better life in my own country.”

Home at last

UNICEF- IOM partnership assisted voluntary returning children to Ethiopia
UNICEF in collaboration with IOM returns children from third countries. Which is facilitated through a Cooperation Agreement signed between the two agencies since 2013 and renewed in 2016. This collaboration supports the Government of Ethiopia’s (GoE) Safe Return and Reunification Programme for Unaccompanied and Migrant Children. ©UNICEF Ethiopia/2016/Tsegaye

Harrowing as their stories are, at least Tesfaye and Jacky are home at last. Some children remain in Kabwe as they had come of age while in prison. The Zambian Human Rights Commission , with support from UNICEFand IOM, continues to work to enable the release of these children and their return to Ethiopia.

Going forward, UNICEF, in partnership with IOM, will support the Child Justice Forum and the Zambian Human Rights Commission to prevent this from happening to other children in the future. UNICEF will also extend its support by monitoring prisons and police cells to identify and help children in similar situations as there are reports of more smuggled and trafficked children; eight more children await trial on a similar accusation.

“I cannot say I have come [home] when half of me [more children] is still in prison” Jacky continued “ I have learned from my mistakes, so I would like to teach everyone about creating jobs in our lands.”

*Names of the children have been changed to protect their privacy

UNICEF and WFP Regional Directors visit El Niño driven drought response in Ethiopia

Afar Region – Ethiopia Ms Leila Pakkala and Ms Valerie Guarnieri, UNICEF and WFP Regional Directors for Eastern and Central Africa, have visited the ongoing government-led drought response where UNICEF-WFP are closely collaborating. The drought is affecting six regions in Ethiopia, and 9.7 million people are in need of urgent food relief assistance including approximately 5.7 million children who are at risk from hunger, disease and lack of water as a result of the current El Niño driven drought.

In Afar Region, where an estimated 1.7 million people are affected by the drought, including 234,000 under-five children, the Regional Directors visited UNICEF/WFP/Government of Ethiopia supported programmes. These included the targeted supplementary feeding programme (TSFP) and an outreach site where one of Afar’s 20 Mobile Health and Nutrition Teams (MHNTs) provides preventive and curative health, nutrition and WASH services to a hard-to-reach community in Lubakda kebele.

Ms Leila Pakkala and Ms Valerie Guarnieri, UNICEF and WFP Regional Directors for Eastern and Central Africa in Ethiopia visit

The Mobile Health and Nutrition Team provides Outpatient Therapeutic Programme (OTP) and targeted supplementary feeding programme (TSFP) services to remote communities. The TSFP is integrated with MHNT services that address under five children and pregnant and lactating women with moderate acute malnutrition, and link them to TSFP when they are discharged from OTP. This solves the challenge in addressing the SAM–MAM continuum of care and preventing moderate acute malnourished children deteriorating into severe acute malnutrition.

The Directors also visited a multi-village water scheme for Afar pastoralist communities in Musle Kebele, Kore Woreda (district) which suffers from chronic water insecurity.

“Valerie and I are hugely impressed by the work of the WFP and UNICEF teams in Afar,” said UNICEF’s Pakkala.  “The quality of the work being done in such difficult circumstances – from the mobile health and nutrition teams, to WASH, protection, education and advocacy – is remarkable. We were also immensely impressed with the national level partnership between UNICEF and WFP, and our credibility with government and donors. The relationship and collaboration is a model for other countries to learn from and emulate.”

“Ethiopia is showing us that drought does not have to equal disaster,” said Valerie Guarnieri of WFP.  “We can clearly see the evidence here that a robust, government-led humanitarian response – supported by the international community – can and does save lives in a time of crisis.”

UNICEF and WFP continue to support the Government in responding to the current drought with a focus on the most vulnerable and hard to reach communities by using proven context specific solutions and approaches.