Friday May 06, 2022
Malnourishment a crippling problem in Africa
One in five children do not eat a diet that meets their nutrient needs during the first 1,000 days of their lives.
Malnourished children are flooding the paediatric ward of the main hospital in Ethiopia’s Gode city as the worst drought for 40 years has forced many families to leave their homes to search for aid. Last year, the hospital received 188 malnourished children, but now they saw that in a single month; many families were arriving with several malnourished children.
The Horn of Africa region is facing the driest conditions in more than four decades after three consecutive rainy seasons failed, according to the United Nations’ World Food Programme (WFP).
The World Food Programme said around 15 million people need food in the Horn of Africa, a figure that could rise to 20 million by the end of the year.
Many families have left their home to seek aid. Nimo Mohammed, a 35-year-old mother of nine who is about to have another baby, now lives with her entire family in a camp in Ethiopia’s southeastern Somali region.
More than 10,000 people are getting aid there – most of them women and children. They are living in makeshift houses made of sticks and covered with plastic sheets or clothes.
One in five children do not eat a diet that meets their nutrient needs during the first 1,000 days of their lives. As a result, they face life-long consequences affecting their physical growth, cognitive development and immune systems – issues that can impact a child’s entire life and present them from thriving into adulthood. Chronic malnutrition is also linked to approximately 45 per cent of deaths among children under five worldwide.
The consequences of chronic malnutrition extend beyond individuals and contribute directly to continuing the cycle of poverty in communities – children who are well-nourished are over 30 per cent more likely to escape poverty. The COVID-19 pandemic has made the need to combat chronic malnutrition even more acute. An earlier report said disruptions in food, health and social protection systems are expected to result in an additional 2.6 million chronically malnourished children by 2022.
Last year, the United Nations secretary-general said that humanitarian conditions in Ethiopia are “hellish” as the nine-month Tigray conflict spreads in Africa’s second most populous country.
The problem is that hunger is the cause of almost half of all child deaths in Africa, a 2019 report by a Pan-African think-tank has found.
The African Child Policy Forum (ACPF), based in Addis Ababa, said that 60 million African children were stunted in 2018, or about one in three, and claimed that the cause was not the lack of resources, but of effective policies.
ACPF’s report, titled For Lack of Will – Child Hunger in Africa said that 90 per cent of all children are malnourished or undernourished in Africa, and 60 per cent do not meet the minimum meal frequency threshold set by the World Health Organisation. The threshold is two meals a day for toddlers between six and eight months old and three for children until 23 months of age.
“Globally, a child dies every three seconds due to hunger, which is equivalent to 10,000 children every day,” the report reads. “About 60 per cent of people who go hungry are female.”
Despite affecting 149 million children globally, chronic malnutrition lacks both widespread attention and adequate investment. Through innovative finance and partnerships, UNITLIFE seeks to close that investment gap to finance nutritious food systems and climate-smart agriculture while empowering and educating women.
UNITLIFE, the United Nations trust fund dedicated to countering chronic malnutrition, was officially launched in June last year on the sidelines of the Generation Equality Forum. The announcement was made at a virtual event co-hosted by Jean-Yves Le Drian, French Minister for Europe and Foreign Affairs, and Reem Bint Ibrahim Al Hashemy, Minister of State for International Cooperation.