Malnutrition mounts in Eastern & Southern Africa as El Niño takes hold, warns UNICEF

Child survival dependent on action taken today says UN agency for children

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JOHANNESBURG, NAIROBI and TORONTO, Feb. 17, 2016 /CNW/ - Almost one million children are in need of treatment for severe acute malnutrition in Eastern and Southern Africa, UNICEF said today. Two years of erratic rain and drought have combined with one of the most powerful El Niño events in 50 years to wreak havoc on the lives of the most vulnerable children.

Across the region, millions of children are at risk from hunger, water shortages and disease. It is a situation aggravated by rising food prices, forcing families to implement drastic coping mechanisms such as skipping meals and selling off assets.

"The El Niño weather phenomenon will wane, but the cost to children—many who were already living hand-to-mouth—will be felt for years to come," said Leila Gharagozloo-Pakkala, UNICEF Regional Director for Eastern and Southern Africa. "Governments are responding with available resources, but this is an unprecedented situation. Children's survival is dependent on action taken today."

Lesotho, Zimbabwe and most provinces in South Africa have declared a state of disaster in the face of growing resource shortages. In Ethiopia, the number of people in need of food assistance is expected to increase from over 10 million to 18 million by the end of 2016.

Releasing its latest briefing on the impact of El Niño on children in the region, UNICEF notes:

  • In Ethiopia, two seasons of failed rains mean that nearly six million children currently require food assistance, with school absenteeism increasing as children are forced to walk greater distances in search of water.
  • In Somalia, more than two thirds of those in urgent need of assistance are displaced populations.
  • In Kenya, El Niño related heavy rains and floods are aggravating cholera outbreaks.
  • In Lesotho, one quarter of the population are affected. This aggravates grave circumstances for a country in which 34 per cent of children are orphans, 57 per cent of people live below the poverty line, and almost one in four adults live with HIV/AIDS.
  • In Zimbabwe, an estimated 2.8 million people are facing food and nutrition insecurity. The drought situation has resulted in reduced water yields from the few functioning boreholes exacerbating the risk to water-borne diseases, especially diarrhea and cholera.
  • Malawi is facing the worst food crisis in nine years, with 2.8 million people (more than 15 per cent of the population) at risk of hunger; cases of severe acute malnutrition have just jumped by 100 per cent in just two months, from December 2015 to January 2016.
  • In Angola, an estimated 1.4 million people are affected by extreme weather conditions and 800,000 people are facing food insecurity, mainly in the semi-arid southern provinces.

The UN Office for Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) estimated that it will take affected communities approximately two years to recover from El Niño exacerbated drought, if agricultural conditions improve in the latter half of this year.

UNICEF humanitarian appeals are less than 15 per cent funded across El Niño-impacted countries in southern Africa. 

UNICEF humanitarian appeals in El Niño-affected countries:

  • $US 26 million in Angola
  • $US 87 million in Ethiopia
  • $US 3 million in Lesotho
  • $US 11 million in Malawi
  • $US 15 million in Somalia
  • $US 1 million in Swaziland
  • $US 12 million in Zimbabwe 

About UNICEF
UNICEF has saved more children's lives than any other humanitarian organization. We work tirelessly to help children and their families, doing whatever it takes to ensure children survive. We provide children with healthcare and immunization, clean water, nutrition and food security, education, emergency relief and more.

UNICEF is supported entirely by voluntary donations and helps children regardless of race, religion or politics. As part of the UN, we are active in over 190 countries - more than any other organization. Our determination and our reach are unparalleled. Because nowhere is too far to go to help a child survive. For more information about UNICEF, please visit www.unicef.ca. For updates, follow us on Twitter and Facebook or visit unicef.ca.

SOURCE UNICEF Canada

Image with caption: "A baby is weighed on a scale in Ethiopia. Two seasons of failed rains mean that nearly six million children across Ethiopia currently require food assistance. ©UNICEF Ethiopia (CNW Group/UNICEF Canada)". Image available at: http://photos.newswire.ca/images/download/20160217_C8481_PHOTO_EN_622296.jpg

For further information: Media Contacts: Stefanie Carmichael, UNICEF Canada, 416-482-6552 ext. 8866, 647-500-4230 (mobile), scarmichael@unicef.ca; Tiffany Baggetta, UNICEF Canada, 416-482-6552 ext. 8892, 647-308-4806 (mobile), tbaggetta@unicef.ca

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http://www.unicef.ca

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