More than 10 million children in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, northeast Nigeria, the Central Sahel, South Sudan and Yemen will suffer from acute malnutrition in 2021, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) said on Wednesday, warning that without urgent action, the numbers could rise further.
All of these countries and regions are experiencing “dire humanitarian crises” while also grappling with intensifying food insecurity, the coronavirus pandemic and, with the exception of the Central Sahel, “a looming famine”, according to the UN agency.
“For countries reeling from the consequences of conflicts, disasters and climate change, COVID-19 has turned a nutrition crisis into an imminent catastrophe,” Henrietta Fore, UNICEF Executive Director, said.
“Families already struggling to feed their children and themselves are now on the brink of famine. We can’t let them be the forgotten victims of 2020,” she added.
In Nigeria, over 800,000 children are expected to suffer from acute malnutrition, including nearly 300,000 of severe acute malnutrition, at imminent risk of death. The situation is particularly alarming in the country’s north-east regions, which suffer from Boko Haram violence.
In DRC and South Sudan, the number of children suffering from acute malnutrition could reach 3.3 million, at least 1 million with severe acute malnutrition; and 1.4 million, and 313,000, respectively.
In Central Sahel countries of Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger, worsening conflict, displacement and climate shocks could take the total number of malnourished children to a staggering 2.9 million, including 890,000 children suffering from severe acute malnutrition.
Across war-torn Yemen, over 2 million children under five years of age suffer from acute malnutrition, including nearly 358,000 with severe malnutrition – a number that is feared to rise, warned UNICEF.
Severe acute malnutrition is the most extreme and visible form of under nutrition. Children with severe acute malnutrition have very low weight for their height and severe muscle wasting. It is a major cause of death in children under five, and its prevention and treatment are critical to child survival and development.
Urgently expand support
Through 2020, in spite of COVID-19 challenges, UNICEF and its partners continued to deliver lifesaving assistance to the most vulnerable children and their families in the hardest to reach areas through adjustments on the existing programmes to maintain and increase access.
With situation feared to worsen in 2021, The UN agency called on humanitarian actors on the ground in these countries as well as the international community to urgently expand access to and support for nutrition, health and water and sanitation services for children and families.
UNICEF has appealed for more than $1 billion to support its lifesaving nutrition programmes for children in countries affected by humanitarian crises over 2021.