More than 30 million children under the age of five suffer from wasting or acute malnutrition caused by conflict, climate shock, lingering effects of the COVID-19 pandemic and the rising cost of living.
Children with the condition have a weakened immune system and run out higher risk of death of common childhood illnesses.
Eight million people are severely wasted – the deadliest form of malnutrition – meaning they are 12 times more likely to die than children who get enough to eat.
Crisis can get worse
The call was made by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO); the UN Refugee Agency, UNHCR; the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), the World Food Program (WFP) and the World Health Organization (WHO).
They urged the international community to accelerate the progress of the Global Action Plan on Child Wasting to prevent the growing crisis from becoming a tragedy.
Qu Dongyu, the director-general of the FAO, warned that the situation is likely to worsen this year.
“We must ensure availability, affordability and accessibility of healthy food for young children, girls and pregnant and lactating women. We now need urgent action to save lives and address the root causes of acute malnutrition by working together across all sectors,” he said.
Five priority areas
The Global Action Plan aims to prevent, detect and treat acute childhood malnutrition in the countries most affected by the crisis: Afghanistan, Burkina Faso, Chad, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ethiopia, Haiti, Kenya, Madagascar, Mali, Niger, Nigeria, Somalia, South Sudan, Sudan and Yemen.
It addresses the need a multisectoral approach and highlights priority actions through shifts in maternal and child nutrition policies targeting food, health, water and sanitation, and social protection systems.
As needs grow, UN agencies have identified five specific actions that will be effective in addressing acute malnutrition in countries affected by conflict and natural disasters, and in humanitarian emergencies.
Analysis, prevention, help
They include improving the analysis of the determinants of child waste; ensure essential nutritional interventions for mother and child for early prevention, such as regular screening, and the introduction of specialized nutritious food products as part of emergency food assistance.
“At UNHCR we are working hard to improve analytics and targeting to ensure we reach the children most at risk, including internally displaced persons and refugees,” said Filippo Grandi, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees.
Scaling up these actions as a coordinated package will be critical for prevention and treatment as well as for saving lives, the partners stressed.
So is the global food crisis a health crisis, anda vicious circle: malnutrition leads to disease and disease leads to malnutrition,” said Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO Director-General.
“Urgent support is now needed in the most affected countries to protect the lives and health of children, including ensuring critical access to healthy food and nutrition services, especially for women and children.”