Water shortages, inadequate sanitation, poor hygiene and disease outbreaks are posing an additional threat to the lives of severely malnourished children in four countries that are facing famine or at risk of it, the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) said on Wednesday.

The agency is working "around the clock" to save young lives in northeast Nigeria, Somalia, South Sudan and Yemen, where nearly 27 million people are reliant on unsafe water.

Dianne Penn reports.

For severely malnourished children, unsafe water is as deadly as lack of food, according to the UN children's agency.

UNICEF Director of Emergency Programmes Manuel Fontaine explained that no matter how much food a malnourished child eats, they will not get better if the water they are drinking is not safe.

He said "We are working around the clock to save as many lives as we can as fast as we can."

However, he continued "without an end to the conflicts plaguing these countries, without sustainable and unimpeded access to the children in need of support and without more resources, even our best efforts will not be enough."

UNICEF outlined water access challenges in the four countries.

In Somalia, for example, many water sources have dried up or are contaminated. Water-borne diseases have also increased, with more than 13,000 cases of cholera and acute watery diarrhoea reported since January.

UNICEF and its partners are scaling up response in the four countries.

For instance, they have provided safe water to nearly 666,000 people in northeast Nigeria over the past 12 months, in addition to treating nearly 170,000 children suffering from severe acute malnutrition.

Source: United Nations Radio

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