Unicef has issued a warning that at least 1.5 million children in Eastern and Southern Africa are not receiving life-saving treatment for severe wasting. This figure reflects nearly half of the estimated 3.6 million children in desperate need who aren’t being addressed in time to save their lives or prevent lasting developmental impairment.
Despite improvements in wasting treatment outreach in the region, the Covid-19 pandemic’s effects, combined with climate shocks and continuous war, continue to push children and families to the edge. Furthermore, Unicef’s humanitarian response continues to be hampered by persistent funding difficulties.
“Nothing is more devastating than seeing children suffering from severe wasting when we know it could have been prevented and treated. Thanks to the support of our donors and partners, we have reached some outstanding results and success stories; but the impacts of Covid-19, climate change and conflict are creating the perfect storm where needs are quickly outpacing resources, and the time to act is now,” says Mohamed M. Fall, Unicef regional director for Eastern and Southern Africa.
Families in the region are currently grappling with a number of challenges, including increased food insecurity, economic decline, disease outbreaks, catastrophic floods and droughts, and conflict. To live, millions of people are forced to cut back on the amount or quality of food they eat.
Families are frequently obliged to do both.
This is an impending food disaster that can – and must – be avoided. Unicef and partners can save the lives of nearly every child hospitalised for severe wasting in the region if they had unrestricted access to children in need and stable funding. Preventing childhood malnutrition is still the greatest method to ensure that children survive, avoid permanent cognitive and physical damage, and avoid the life-long misery that comes with it.
The levels of hunger in the different countries:
Treatment services for severe wasting reached at least 65 000 children in 2021. Food insecurity affects an estimated 2.8 million individuals, with 565 044 children wasting and 123 000 seriously wasting. Due to the cumulative effects of three consecutive unsuccessful planting and harvest seasons, as well as cattle deaths due to droughts, the situation is anticipated to worsen.
In South Sudan
Unicef and partners treated over 240 000 children in South Sudan, where an estimated 1.4 million children under the age of five are acutely malnourished, including over 310 000 children suffering from severe wasting. Floods, which have killed cattle, washed away food and farms, and hindered humanitarian access at a time when funds are running low, have made the situation in the country even more dire.
Insecurity continues to have a severe impact on child nutrition in Mozambique. In 2021, over 38 000 children will have received therapy for severe wasting, up from approximately 10 000 children in 2020. More money is desperately needed to ensure that these services continue beyond April of this year.
“The situation in the region remains dire and any disruptions to an already stretched humanitarian operation, could further aggravate what is already a long-running nutrition crisis,” the organisation said.
“Unicef is asking for US$255 million to scale up its emergency nutrition response in priority countries in Eastern and Southern Africa in 2022, and support children with adequate and life-saving nutrition services, including treatment for severe wasting.”