Lakers star Pau Gasol arrived in Chad Thursday for a week-long visit of the African country as part of his UNICEF ambassadorship.
Reports say the basketball star hopes to raise awareness for food crises that plague that country. He also endeavors to urge continued support for the hundreds of thousands of children affected by the food crisis in West Africa’s Sahel region.
“I’m in Chad to remind people that one million children are at risk in the Sahel because of the nutritional crisis and that it is possible to end malnutrition.” -Mr. Gasol
Mr. Gasol is a Silver Medalist at the 2012 Olympics, a two-time NBA champion and a UNICEF Spain Ambassador since 2003.
During his visit, Mr. Gasol spent three days in the capital of N’Djamena, and three days in Kanem, where he saw UNICEF projects in Mao and Miouh.
The small village of Miouh has been the location for a feeding centre where a water well has been installed, schools are being supported by training teachers and supplies are being distributed.
“It is very important to reach places like Miouh, where families have problems that could not be addressed without the support of organizations like UNICEF.” – Mr. Gasol
In Mao, Mr. Gasol also visited a UNICEF programme aimed at promoting hygiene habits among children.
Reports say Chad is the fourth country after South Africa, Angola and Ethiopia Mr. Gasol has visited in his role as a UNICEF Ambassador.
UN reports that more than 127,000 children are at serious risk of severe malnutrition in Chad. The childre struggle to to survive in the midst of a crisis engulfing the African country.
A deteriorating food and nutrition crisis has swept West Africa’s Sahel region where reports say 15 million are directly affected by drought and conflict-related crisis.
Reports say more than 200,000 children died of malnutrition last year and another one million are threatened by hunger and famine.
Conflict and unrest, more people being displaced, rising food and fuel prices and severe drought are also prevalent in the region.
According to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), the food and nutrition crisis facing countries in West Africa’s drought-prone Sahel region has continued to deteriorate at an alarming rate this year despite commendable early response efforts by governments and international aid agencies.
The worsening food shortages and malnutrition have been caused by conflict and insecurity.
UN agencies and partners last December appealed for $724 million to fund the humanitarian response to the crisis in the Sahel.
UN reports that at least one million children under the age of five across Africa’s Sahel region are at risk of dying from severe famine and malnutrition due to drought.
The estimates over 220,000 vulnerable children live in Mali alone.
UNICEF appeals that it needs USD 120 million to tackle the worsening crisis.
In March this year, UN reports that countries in the Sahel are at risk of full-scale food and nutrition crisis.
The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) said that at least 15 million people are estimated to be at risk of food insecurity in Sahel region, including 5.4 million people in Niger, three million in Mali, 1.7 million in Burkina Faso and 3.6 million in Chad, as well as hundreds of thousands in Senegal, the Gambia, and Mauritania.
The Sahel has regularly been afflicted by food insecurity as drought, poor harvests and rising food prices have left the region on the brink of a humanitarian crisis.
Last year, the World Food Programme (WFP) also implemented an emergency operation for 737,000 people, including acutely malnourished children, in parts of Chad, which has also been affected by the drought afflicting the eastern Sahel region.
In addition, WFP had fed 670,000 children under the age of two and their families in drought-stricken Niger, where as many as eight million people need assistance.
The Sahel belt of Africa stretches from Senegal to Eritrea.