Addis Ababa- Ethiopia (PANA) -- An estimated 126,000 children are in need of urgent therapeutic care for severe malnutrition, according to the UN Children's Agency (UNICEF).
UNICEF cautioned Tuesday that up to six million children under five years of age were living in impoverished, drought-prone districts and required continuation of urgent preventive health and nutrition interventions.
"The situation is the worst since the major humanitarian crisis of 2003, and is rapidly deteriorating.
About US$ 50 million is urgently required for health, nutrition, and water and sanitation," said Bjorn Ljungqvist, UNICEF representative in Ethiopia.
"It is extremely unfortunate that the combined effects of drought, food price hikes, and insufficient resources for preventive measures, resulted in an emergency that jeopardises significant child survival gains in Ethiopia.
"The mechanisms and capacity to prevent and respond to the increase of severe acute malnutrition are in place but are under-resourced," he added.
Widespread drought, poor rainy seasons, heavy loss of livestock, limited food supply and soaring prices of food, fuel and fertilizer linked to the global food crisis are contributing to the troubled outlook for children in this East African country.
Since September 2007, for example, prices of some cereals have increased between 50 per cent and 90 per cent, stretching the ability of many households to meet all their food needs.
Pastoral areas and farming communities dependent on the failed short rains in the southeastern parts of Ethiopia have been the most critically affected, especially in Southern Nations Nationalities and People's Region (SNNPR), Oromiya, and Somali regions.
Other hotspots are developing in the northwestern Amhara and eastern Afar and northern Tigray regions.
In addition to the eight million Ethiopians who are chronically food insecure and are supported by a national safety net programme, at least 3.
4 million Ethiopians are in need of emergency food relief, a figure that is likely to rise, according to relief agencies operating in the country.
UNICEF said that the number of children admitted to therapeutic feeding centers was increasing, putting a strain on the local capacity to respond and on the availability of specialised food for treatment of severely malnourished children.
UNICEF is providing therapeutic feeding to severely malnourished children through ready to use therapeutic foods such as Plumpy Nut.
Last weekend, UNICEF received 90 metric tonnes of therapeutic foods but the agency said as much as 1,800 metric tonnes were needed over the next three months.
In view of the dire need for additional funding for increased therapeutic Supplies, UNICEF has appealed for US$ 20 million for emergency nutrition alone.
It has received only 5 per cent of the amount - US$ 1 million.
The additional US$ 30 million is required for measles vaccination , control of diarrhoeal diseases, outreach health and nutrition activities, emergency water supply and sanitation.