Tens of thousands of people have fled northern Mali as Islamist militants tighten their grip over the vast desert region. Those who remain face an increasingly desperate humanitarian situation with little access to food, clean water and medicine. The International Rescue Committee and international relief organizations, meanwhile, are struggling to deliver vital aid to suffering Malian civilians.
Over 450,000 people have fled the north since the Islamist takeover and another half-million people inside the country are in need of immediate assistance according to the United Nations and international aid organizations.
“The situation in the north of the country is becoming more and more alarming,” said Tasha Gill, who directs the IRC’s aid programs in Mali. “Basic services like health centers, water points and schools have stopped functioning. And although food can be found at the market now, many simply cannot afford to buy it. A perfect storm is brewing and thousands need humanitarian assistance.”
The heat inside the small medical clinic is stifling. An occasional breeze from an open window provides the only relief. A dozen lethargic children, their ribs exposed and twig-like arms outstretched, lay on beds covered by mosquito nets.
I accompany Keita Cheick Oumar, a doctor with the International Rescue Committee (IRC), as he checks on patients in a health clinic located in the densely populated Kati district, near the Malian capital of Bamako. Kati district has been hard hit by Mali’s deepening hunger crisis and as elsewhere in the country the crisis is having an especially devastating impact on children.
Editor's note: Actress Mia Farrow has traveled extensively as an ambassador for UNICEF, including trips to Angola, Cameroon, Chad, Central African Republic, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Haiti, South Sudan and Uganda, and has been active in the organization for more than 12 years. Farrow starred in the film "Rosemary's Baby" and has appeared in many other films, including "The Great Gatsby," "Death on the Nile" and "Hannah and Her Sisters."
Throughout my travels with UNICEF - from Angola, to Central African Republic, Chad, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Haiti, Sudan and Uganda - I have met countless young girls and boys whose bodies and minds have been permanently damaged because they were malnourished during the first 1,000 days of their lives.
His "Smoke Alarm" system should be "far more effective" than organizing a telethon or charity concert because it is so much faster than physically getting artists together to raise awareness, Robinson said Thursday.
Anderson Cooper reports live from Somalia and talks with U2's Bono about the disturbing hunger situation there and how you can help. Tune into "AC360º" at 8 and 10 p.m. ET Wednesday on CNN.
There is no way to dignify the description of death by starvation. It is neither quick nor painless. Not too long after the food is cut off, the body resorts to fuel reserves in the liver and fatty tissues. Once the fat is all gone, and the person is a skeleton of what he or she once was, the body searches for protein, and finds it in muscle tissue. Even the muscle of the heart is consumed, leaving someone drained and listless.
The body shuts down. The pulse, the blood pressure and body temperature all precipitously drop. Little kids such as Ahmed (a six year old boy at the Dadaab refugee camp) completely stop growing and become stunted in time.
Read more at Saving Ahmed from starvation
On Tuesday night, Anderson Cooper and Dr. Sanjay Gupta report live from Somalia with more on the disturbing hunger situation. "AC360º" is now at 8 and 10 ET weeknights on CNN.
Dadaab, Kenya (CNN) - Right now, this may be the most desperate place on Earth.
A drought, not seen in 60 years, compounded with near complete lawlessness and utter disregard for human life has made it so.
It is hard to imagine, but dust and starvation are nearly everywhere you look, and the world's largest refugee camp is thick with misery on this night. The smell is a combination of the acrid sweetness associated with malnourishment, anxious sweat and diesel fuel.
Perhaps you think you’ve seen it, heard it all before. Hunger in the Horn of Africa. Famine once again spreading in Somalia. It is an old headline, I suppose, it certainly has happened before, but that doesn’t lessen the horror of it: the sickening stench of a hospital room filled with dying children; the shock of seeing row after row of tiny, freshly dug graves.
It is hard to know what to say. There are statistics of course. An estimated 29,000 children under the age of five dead in the last three months. 3.2 million people in Somalia in need of immediate, life saving assistance. Well over two million Somalis have had to flee their homes to the capital Mogadishu or to neighboring countries. The numbers are numbing.
For young children in drought-stricken areas of Kenya, primary schools providing free lunchtime meals are operating as "life-saving centers" in communities where food is increasingly scarce.
But with schools due to close throughout August for the summer holidays, aid agencies warn this vital lifeline could be lost just when it is needed most.
"The situation is desperate," says Victor Koyi, National Director of the ChildFund aid agency in Kenya. "If schools close, children are put at ultimate risk, they are made vulnerable and the risk of death is, frankly, very real in those situations."
And it's happening on our own backyard as well. Read When school's out for summer, stomachs grumble and Hungry at the holidays
Nearly a billion people worldwide have limited access to clean water, the State Department says, and the crisis disproportionately affects women and girls.
"On average, women in developing countries walk six kilometers a day to collect water," Undersecretary of State for Democracy and Global Affairs Maria Otero told CNN, because there is not enough of it nearby.
The chore keeps girls out of school and women from more productive economic activities, Otero said.
Several hundred people gathered outside the State Department for the "Earth Day 6K Walk for Water," a 3.5 mile walk around the city to support the many women who have to carry containers on long treks every day to fetch water for their families. Nearly one billion people in the developing world walk on average 3.5 miles to get water to drink.
Read the full story: "For nearly a billion people, a glass of water means miles to walk"
When 12-year-old Mason went to lunch each day last year, he could choose between orange juice and milk, but he couldn't get a cup of water.
Like many public schools, his doesn't provide cups. To have free water with his lunch, Mason would have to wait in line at a water fountain shared by hundreds of other middle-school students and take a few sips of water before returning to eat.
Not surprisingly, he usually didn't bother.
His mother, Johanna Whittlesey, like other parents across the country, assumed her child had enough water, but nutrition advocates believe schoolchildren's access to water is a national problem the federal government has only begun to address.