The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) Friday appealed for 255 million U.S. dollars to ramp up its emergency nutrition response in priority countries in Eastern and Southern Africa in 2022.
The UN agency said the funds will also be used to support children with adequate and life-saving nutrition services, including treatment for severe wasting.
UNICEF warned in a statement released in the Kenyan capital, Nairobi that at least 1.5 million children are not receiving life-saving treatment for severe wasting in Eastern and Southern Africa. It said the number represents almost half of the estimated 3.6 million children in urgent need, who are not being reached in time to save their lives or keep them from permanent development damage.
“Nothing is more devastating than seeing children suffering from severe wasting when we know it could have been prevented and treated,” Mohamed M. Fall, the UNICEF regional director for Eastern and Southern Africa.
He said despite gradual improvement in wasting treatment outreach in the region, the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, combined with climate shocks and ongoing conflict, continue to push children and families to the brink. In addition, consistent shortfalls in funding remain a barrier for UNICEF’s humanitarian response.
The UNICEF said more than 255,000 children received treatment for severe wasting in 2021 in Somalia, whilst the country still undergoes one of the worst droughts ever recorded. Moreover, at least 65,000 children in Kenya were reached in 2021 with treatment services for severe wasting.
The UN agency said families across the region are currently dealing with multiple crises, including rising levels of food insecurity, economic deterioration, disease outbreaks, unprecedented cycles of floods and droughts, and conflict. And millions are having to reduce the quantity or quality of the food they eat in order to survive. In many cases, families are forced to do both.
It said 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.
“This is a looming nutrition tragedy that can — and must be averted. With unhindered access and predictable funding to reach children in need, the UNICEF and partners can save the lives of nearly every child admitted for severe wasting in the region,” it said.
In Ethiopia, the country with the largest child population in the region, UNICEF and partners reached an estimated 500,000 severely wasted children in 2021.
In South Sudan, where an estimated 1.4 million children under five years of age are acutely malnourished, including over 310,000 children suffering from severe wasting, UNICEF and partners provided treatment to more than 240,000 children last year.
UNICEF said prevention remains the best way to ensure that children survive, avoid permanent cognitive and physical damage, and evade the life-long suffering that results from childhood malnutrition.