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.
According to UNICEF’s Regional Director for Eastern and Southern Africa, Mohamed M. Fall, nothing is more heartbreaking than witnessing children suffer from severe wasting, knowing it might have been avoided and cured. UNICEF has achieved some outstanding results and success stories thanks to the support of its donors and partners; however, the effects of COVID19, climate change, and conflict are combining to create a perfect storm in which needs are rapidly outpacing resources, and the time to act is now.
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 hospitalized 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.
- In Angola, where people are suffering from the worst drought in 40 years, UNICEF and partners were able to scale up their emergency nutrition response in the worst-affected provinces (Cuando Cubango, Hula, Benguela, Cunene, and Namibe), with nearly 40% more children treated for severe wasting in 2021 than in 2020.
- UNICEF and partners reached an estimated 500,000 severely wasting children in Ethiopia, the region’s biggest child population, in 2021. Many children in northern Ethiopia, however, continue to require life-saving assistance, and families in four regions (Afar, Somali, SNNPR, and southern and eastern Oromia) are fighting to survive as a severe drought grips the country following three consecutive dry seasons. According to the most recent estimates, more than 6.8 million people in drought-affected areas, many of whom are children, will require immediate humanitarian aid by mid-2022.
- Last year, UNICEF and partners treated over 240,000 children in South Sudan, where an estimated 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 direr.
- Last year, UNICEF and partners helped escape a feared catastrophe for many households in Madagascar, where three years of continuous droughts created one of the greatest food insecurity and nutrition crises in decades. When compared to 2020, UNICEF and partners were able to treat nearly twice as many children with severe wasting. At least 55,000 children under the age of five are thought to have been spared as a result of this.
- In Somalia, more than 255,000 children were treated for severe wasting in 2021, despite the fact that the country is currently suffering from one of the worst droughts in history, on top of ongoing instability. In 2022, an estimated 1.3 million children under the age of five are expected to be wasted, including about 295,000 severe cases.
- In Kenya, 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.
- 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 grave, and any setbacks to an already overburdened humanitarian operation risk exacerbating a long-running food crisis. In 2022, UNICEF is seeking US$255 million to expand its emergency nutrition response in priority countries in Eastern and Southern Africa, and to provide children with adequate and life-saving nutrition services, including severe wasting treatment.