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 that:
- In Ethiopia, two seasons of failed rains mean that near on 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% of children are orphans, 57% 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% 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-Nino 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 Nino-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