UNICEF Ethiopia seeks US$110.5 million in emergency assistance for 9.2 million children and their families

Malnutrition poses “silent threat” to children, agency’s 2017 appeal says 

NEW YORK/GENEVA/ADDIS ABABA, 31 January 2017 – 48 million children living through some of the world’s worst conflicts and other humanitarian emergencies will benefit from UNICEF’s 2017 appeal, which was launched today.

From Syria to Yemen and Iraq, from South Sudan to Nigeria, children are under direct attack, their homes, schools and communities in ruins, their hopes and futures hanging in the balance. In total, almost one in four of the world’s children live in a country affected by conflict or disaster.

“In country after country, war, natural disaster and climate change are driving ever more children from their homes, exposing them to violence, disease and exploitation,” said UNICEF Director of Emergency Programmes, Manuel Fontaine. 

UNICEF’s Humanitarian Action for Children sets out the agency’s 2017 appeal totaling $3.3 billion, and its goals in providing children with access to safe water, nutrition, education, health and protection in 48 countries across the globe. 

An estimated 7.5 million children will face severe acute malnutrition across the majority of appeal countries, including almost half a million each in northeast Nigeria and Yemen.

“Malnutrition is a silent threat to millions of children,” said Fontaine. “The damage it does can be irreversible, robbing children of their mental and physical potential. In its worst form, severe malnutrition can be deadly.”  

The largest single component of the appeal is for children and families caught up in the Syria conflict, soon to enter its seventh year. UNICEF is seeking a total of $1.4 billion to support Syrian children inside Syria and those living as refugees in neighbouring countries.

In total, working alongside its partners, UNICEF’s other priorities in 2017 are:

  • Providing over 19 million people with access to safe water;
  • Reaching 9.2 million children with formal or non-formal basic education;
  • Immunizing 8.3 million children against measles;
  • Providing psychosocial support to over two million children;
  • Treating 3.1 million children with severe acute malnutrition.

In the first ten months of 2016, as a result of UNICEF’s support:

  • 13.6 million people had access to safe water;
  • 9.4 million children were vaccinated against measles;
  • 6.4 million children accessed some form of education;
  • 2.2 million children were treated for severe acute malnutrition.

UNICEF Ethiopia’s 2017 Humanitarian Appeal for Children (HAC) is for US$110.5 million, which includes US$17.3 million required to provide assistance to refugees.  Together with the Government of Ethiopia and humanitarian partners, UNICEF Ethiopia aims to reach 9.2 million children and their families with access to safe water and hygiene, nutrition, health and protection services and give hope for the future by providing education in emergencies.

Aysha Nur a mother of four is receiving a medical treatment for her child
Fatuma Ahmed 4 is checked for malnutrition by a mobile health extension officer at Lubakda Kebele of Kori Woreda in Afar Regional state. Lubakda, a remote site served by one of Afar’s 20 Mobile Health and Nutrition Teams (MHNTs), is 4km from the nearest health post and 30km from the nearest health centre. ©UNICEF Ethiopia/2016/Tesfaye

“In 2017, UNICEF Ethiopia prioritizes humanitarian needs of those affected by the Horn of Africa drought while continuing to support development initiatives to ensure all children and their families have clean water, adequate sanitation as well as access to nutrition and health services. Additional priorities are to support education for children facing emergencies and to protect children against violence and abuse,” said Gillian Mellsop, UNICEF Representative to Ethiopia. “Our ability to respond adequately to the needs of millions of children contributes to future growth and stability in Ethiopia. Through linked humanitarian and development programming, the Government of Ethiopia, UNICEF and our partners’ investments helps build families’ and communities’ resilience against future emergencies.”

While the funding will be critical to UNICEF’s ability to respond to immediate needs, it will also be used to take appropriate action to strengthen preparedness, improve early warning systems and reduce vulnerability as well as contribute to more resilient communities. 

In 2016, UNICEF raised US$108.7 million to provide around 7 million children and their families with life-saving humanitarian assistance to mitigate the impact of the El Niño-induced drought. With severe water shortages, malnutrition and disease outbreaks, the anticipated humanitarian need in 2017 has reduced only slightly, from 9.7 to 9.2 million people.

Though an adequate 2016 ‘kiremt’ rainy season was recorded in many areas of the country, drought conditions and residual effects from the El Niño emergency continue to cause water shortages, malnutrition, disease outbreaks and related protection and education issues, including the closure of hundreds of schools in drought-affected areas.

A new drought expanding across the lowland areas in the Horn of Africa, induced by another weather phenomena, the Indian Ocean Dipole (IOD), is further exacerbating humanitarian needs in the south and south eastern regions of Afar and Somali, as well as parts of Oromia and SNNP. Neighbouring country Somalia is also severely affected, causing 1,325 refugees crossing into the Ethiopian Somali region in the first 17 days of January. Ethiopia is already one of the top refugee-hosting countries in Africa, with 783,401 refugees as of November 2016 hailing from South Sudan, Somalia, Eritrea and Sudan.

Laying the foundation of future generation

A new pre-school programme is helping Ethiopian Children to get ready for school

By Demissew Bizuwerk

Mengi-Benishangul Gumuz- Ethiopia 28 September 2016 – In one of the classes at Mengi Elementary School, in the Benishangul-Gumuz region of Ethiopia, Edidal Abdulkerim, six, and her friends sing about the five senses with melodious tone along with a small tape recorder. Before the next song starts, their teacher Abdulaziz Ahmed asks questions to make sure that the children got the message right.

The children are learning with stories, plays and songs and the expression on their faces says it all. This is their first ever school experience at the age six and seven. Perhaps, just before their critical age of learning passed by.

“It feels great to sing, write and colour,” says Edidal cracking a beautiful smile. “I have many friends here and we play together.”

Benishangul Gumuz - Education
Edidal draws with her friends in her class room. She is one of the 30 students in Mengi Elementary School who are enrolled in an eight week education programme – during a summer break- called Accelerated School Readiness (ASR) ©UNICEF Ethiopia/2016/Tadesse

Edidal, is one of the 30 students in Mengi Elementary School who are enrolled in an eight week education programme – during a summer break- called Accelerated School Readiness (ASR). This new programme is designed to prepare rural children, who have not had the chance to attend any form of early childhood education, for primary education by helping them develop cognitive, behavioural as well as foundational ‘pre’ academic skills.

ASR offers 160-hours of pre-literacy and pre-numeracy learning and helps children to develop social skills.  It is an interim strategy which helps children aged between six and seven make a successful transition from home to school while formal pre-primary classes are gradually introduced across the country.

A daunting task of ensuring quality remains ahead despite Ethiopia’s significant achievement in expanding access to primary education. There are quite a number of children in early primary classes who do not acquire the minimum expected level of skills. And the numbers are alarming. The average mean score for reading skills in grade 4 for instance is found to be only 45 per cent, which is below the minimum passing mark of 50, set in the education policy[1]. And this statistics even goes lower in remote rural villages such as Mengi.

“There are many reasons which can explain this poor performance of children in rural Ethiopia,” says Maekelech Gidey, UNICEF Education Specialist “But the main one has to do with school readiness”. The country lacks adequate pre-school facilities where children can be supported and encouraged to better understand their environment and develop skills, which are vital for success in school and later in their lives.

It is only 48 per cent of Ethiopia’s 7.7 million children aged between three and six who have access to early learning[2], and many young children, especially rural girls like Edidal, were not part of this statistics.

Children who start their formal primary schooling on weak early childhood learning are more likely to fall behind their peers and consequently drop out of school too early.

It is this challenge that prompted the development of the ASR initiative.  In 2015 the programme was introduced and piloted in the Benishangul-Gumuz region after designing a well fitted curriculum and training of teachers.

Benishangul Gumuz - Education
Edidal shares a smile with her best friend Narmin in Mengi primary school. They are both enrolled in an eight week education programme – during a summer break- called Accelerated School Readiness (ASR) ©UNICEF Ethiopia/2016/Tadesse

How does ASR work?

First, teachers and community leaders identify the village children in the month of May each year.  If the nearby schools have O classes already, then the children will be enrolled for eight weeks in the month of July and August. Otherwise, they will undergo the same programme during the first two month of the academic year in Grade 1.

For the ASR to succeed, it needs a dedicated teacher like Abdulaziz and the children have to attend the programme regularly. Missing even a single day of class means missing a lot in the programme.

“Some children who live far away from school skip class when it rains or when their parents go to the market early,” says Abdulaziz. “So I visit their homes to tell their parents about the advantages of this education to their children and the importance of attending class regularly.”

Intizar Abdulkerim, a seven year old who loves to learn about the environment, says her mother is sometimes reluctant to send her to school when she needs help with the household chores. “I feel sad when I stay in the house during school day,” says Intizar “every time I skip class, I lag behind my friends.”

It looks like old habits do not go away easily. The perception of parents towards the education of their daughters still needs to be worked on. “Boys attend the programme more regularly than girls,” says Abdulaziz. “Yet my best performing students are girls,” he added pointing towards Edidal and Intizar.

Edidal and Intizar will be entering Grade 1 in the coming academic year with a solid base. The combination of play and learning activities of the ASR have inculcated the children with the necessary pre-school skills that they need to succeed further.

A preliminary assessment on the impact of the ASR has revealed that, the programme is effective in having children acquire pre-school skills in mathematics and literacy. This is a good news for experts from the region’s education bureau and UNICEF who have been working on the programme since its inception.

The ASR experience in the Benishangul-Gumuz region is also extended to Oromia region based on its cost effectiveness and impact.

While Edidal wants to become a teacher, Intizar’s dream is to be a doctor. There is still a long way to go until the young girls’ dreams are a reality. Yet, for now, the foundation of their future is laid on fertile grounds. 

[1] Ethiopian Fifth National Learning Assessment (NLA), MoE 2016

[2] MOE, Education Statistics Annual Abstract 2008/ 2015-16

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.