With long-term development programs in place, hunger crises can often be avoided and families can maintain independence.
By Constance Ndeleko
Hunger is increasing at an alarming rate in Africa. The COVID-19 pandemic, conflict, drought, economic woes, and extreme weather are reversing years of progress. As of 2019, 234 million sub-Saharan Africans were chronically undernourished, more than in any other region. In the whole of Africa, 250 million people were experiencing hunger, which is nearly 20% of the population.
With an estimated 5.7 million children under five on the brink of starvation across the globe, the world is facing the biggest global hunger crisis of the 21st century, Save the Children warned. A further 13 million children under 18 are facing extreme food shortages, the organization said.
Across East Africa It is estimated that more than 108,000 people are under catastrophic famine-conditions, marked by critical acute malnutrition, starvation, destitution and death. Additionally, almost 7 million people are one step away from famine another 33.8 million face acute food insecurity, and as many as 26 million require urgent action to prevent them sliding into the same acute situation. At least 12.8 million children are acutely malnourished in the region.
“It’s heartbreaking that the lives of millions of children in East Africa are at risk due to a perfect storm of conflict, changing or unpredictable weather patterns, and the aftershocks of COVID-19,” said Edgar Sandoval Sr., president and CEO of World Vision U.S. “The long-term harm of malnutrition on children’s development hinders their ability to achieve their God-given potential.”
Since late 2019, the East Africa region has endured extensive and widespread breeding of desert locusts occasioning in loss of pasture and crops. During the second half of 2020, large-scale floods destroyed ready to harvest crops of more than four million people across the region. Moreover, the region is riveted by prolonged crises and fragility in several countries compounded by the new conflict e.g. in Tigray, Ethiopia, which has dramatically increased food insecurity.
WUKRO, Ethiopia/GENEVA, July 30 (Reuters) – The United Nations children’s agency said on Friday that more than 100,000 children in Ethiopia’s northern region of Tigray could suffer life-threatening malnutrition in the next 12 months, a 10-fold increase to normal numbers.
According to one of the publications on the 31 March, 2021 it stated – More than seven million people across six countries in East Africa are on the brink of starvation. If the international community does not act now, thousands of children could face long-term health consequences or die, warns World Vision International.
The unforeseen impacts and aftershocks of COVID-19 also persist for children and their communities in the region, where there is a decline in income opportunities, lost livelihoods, diminished purchasing power and limited access to basic food and services, in contexts without welfare safety nets.
When food crises happen, some children are malnourished for long periods leading to stunting. 31% of children in sub-Saharan Africa are stunted due to chronic malnutrition, they lack the capacity to learn and contribute to society. It’s because their little bodies don’t get enough of the right nutrients at the right times to support physical and intellectual growth.
Those who are most at risk experience severe acute malnutrition, known as severe wasting. This means their bodies are beginning to lose the ability to absorb vital nutrients. So they’re literally starving to death. And they’re nine times more likely to die than a well-nourished child.
Across East Africa, at least 12.8 million children are experiencing high levels of malnutrition. In South Darfur, Sudan, World Vision is providing nutritional care for children diagnosed with malnutrition. As of March 2021, nearly 7,000 children below the age of 5 and 1,800 pregnant women and breastfeeding mothers have received nutritional care for acute malnutrition.
A lethal combination of COVID-19, conflicts, and the impacts of climate change have pushed hunger and malnutrition levels to a record global high. Without urgent action, we could see thousands of children starving to death, reversing decades of progress, Save the Children warned.
In crises, children are always the most susceptible. Without sufficient nutritious food, children cannot develop as they should and are at a high risk of acute malnutrition. This can lead to stunting or death, with irreversible damage to a child’s physical and cognitive development.
Malnutrition persisted in all its forms, with children paying a high price: in 2020, over 149 million under-fives are estimated to have been stunted, or too short for their age; more than 45 million – wasted, or too thin for their height; and nearly 39 million – overweight. A full three-billion adults and children remained locked out of healthy diets, largely due to excessive costs. Nearly a third of women of reproductive age suffer from anemia. Globally, despite progress in some areas – more infants, for example, are being fed exclusively on breast milk – the world is not on track to achieve targets for any nutrition indicators by 2030.
This perplexing period also has long term consequences, and could erode human and economic development gains that have been made towards the global Sustainable Development Goals across the region. It’s a humanitarian catastrophe without precedent in the 21st century. COVID-19 has intensified these challenges. Famine also endangers children’s safety, learning and wellbeing.
Help is necessary to keep the Africa hunger and food crises from deteriorating. Children, particularly those younger than 5, are the most vulnerable because they need critical nutrients to build strength and immunity against disease.
There’s a need to intervene along supply chains to lower the cost of nutritious foods – for example, by encouraging the planting of bio fortified crops or making it easier for fruit and vegetable growers to access markets.
We need to tackle poverty and structural inequalities by boosting food value chains in poor communities through technology transfers and certification programs
To truly put an end to global hunger and the malnutrition crisis, we must address the root causes of food and nutrition insecurity. Mitigating the worst effects of COVID-19 is just part of the solution. Only by putting an end to global conflict, tackling changing climate and food systems, and building more resilient systems and communities will we be able to ensure the same warnings do not ring out again in the coming years.