Zimbabwe currently faces its worst malnutrition rates in 15 years, with 33 000 children in urgent need of treatment for severe acute malnutrition, a global children’s organisation has said.
The El Niño-induced drought is ravaging southern Africa, doubling the number of hungry families in Zimbabwe in the past eight months, the United Children’s Education Fund (Unicef) said on Tuesday.
“Children are enduring the greatest force of this crisis,” said Unicef acting representative, Jane Muita.
“We have not seen these levels of malnutrition in more than 15 years and although the government and its partners are doing their best to assist, more needs to be done to prevent this crisis from spiralling out of control.”
Muita said two consecutive seasons of failed rains had diminished food harvests and reserves, increased hunger and malnutrition, dried up water sources and decimated livestock.
An estimated 2,8 million people are facing food and nutrition insecurity in the country.
The global children’s body said a Zimbabwe Vulnerability Assessment Survey released last month showed that nearly 2,8 million people in rural Zimbabwe, which is about 30% of the rural population, would require food assistance; of which 1,4 million are children aged 18 years and below.
The survey said the impact of the drought on households was particularly stark and children were being adversely affected in that the proportion of hungry households had more than doubled from 16% in May 2015 to 37% in January 2016.
The survey showed that overall, 2,1% of children under five years have severe acute malnutrition. This is slightly higher than the international threshold of 2% required for an emergency response.
Global acute malnutrition has hit 5,7%, the highest ever reached in the last 15 years.
Interventions would focus on supporting vulnerable and disadvantaged women and children…
This is also the age group where oedema (swelling of arms and feet as a result of excess water retention) is most prevalent.
On average, 35% of households were found to be having inadequate water supply for domestic use.
The survey said water scarcity was forcing children, especially girls, to walk even longer distances in search of water.
Inadequate water is also exposing children to higher risks of diarrhoea, typhoid and other water-borne disease including cholera.
Unicef said it was requesting US$21 million to meet the humanitarian needs of children in Zimbabwe in 2016.
Other countries appealing for humanitarian aid include Angola (US$26m), Ethiopia (US$87), Lesotho (US$3m), Malawi (US$11), Somalia (US$15m) and Swaziland (US$1).
Without additional funding, the global body said it would be unable to continue to respond to the humanitarian needs of children in nutrition, health, water and sanitation, HIV/Aids, education and child protection services.
Unicef said interventions would focus on supporting vulnerable and disadvantaged women and children to withstand, adapt to and recover from this crisis.
In February, Unicef said almost one million children were in need of treatment for severe acute malnutrition in Eastern and Southern Africa.
“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 Unicef regional director for Eastern and Southern Africa, Leila Gharagozloo-Pakkala.
“Governments are responding with available resources, but this is an unprecedented situation. Children’s survival is dependent on action taken today.”