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Millions of children at risk of death unless action is taken to fight the global hunger crisis
by UNICEF, Joining Forces Alliance, agencies
8:09am 12th Aug, 2022
Jan. 2023
Urgent action needed as acute malnutrition threatens the lives of millions of vulnerable children. (UN News)
United Nations agencies are calling for urgent action to protect the most vulnerable children in the 15 countries hardest hit by an unprecedented food and nutrition crisis.
Conflict, climate shocks, the ongoing impacts of COVID-19, and rising costs of living are leaving increasing numbers of children acutely malnourished while key health, nutrition and other life-saving services are becoming less accessible.
Currently, more than 30 million children in the 15 worst-affected countries suffer from wasting – or acute malnutrition – and 8 million of these children are severely wasted, the deadliest form of undernutrition. This is a major threat to children’s lives and to their long-term health and development.
UN agencies - the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), the World Food Programme (WFP) and the World Health Organization (WHO) - are calling for accelerated progress on the Global Action Plan on Child Wasting. It aims to prevent and treat acute malnutrition among children in the worst-affected countries, which are Afghanistan, Burkina Faso, Chad, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ethiopia, Haiti, Kenya, Madagascar, Mali, the Niger, Nigeria, Somalia, South Sudan, the Sudan and Yemen.
The Global Action Plan highlights priority actions across maternal and child nutrition through the food, health, water and sanitation, and social protection systems. Scaling up actions will be critical for preventing and treating acute malnutrition in children, and averting a tragic loss of life.
The UN agencies are calling for decisive and urgent action to prevent this crisis from becoming a tragedy for the world’s most vulnerable children. All agencies call for greater investment in support of a coordinated UN response to meet the unprecedented needs of this growing crisis, before it is too late.
* Wasting or acute malnutrition is a form of undernutrition caused by a decrease in food consumption and/or illness that results in sudden weight loss or oedema. Children with acute malnutrition have weakened immune systems and are at higher risk of dying from common childhood diseases. Child wasting is the most dangerous form of undernutrition. Severe wasting is the deadliest form, as severely wasted children are 12 times more likely to die than a well-nourished child.
Aug. 2022 (Joining Forces Alliance)
Millions of children at risk of death unless immediate action is taken to fight the global hunger crisis, warn six of the world’s largest child-focused NGOs.
The world is facing a hunger and nutrition crisis of unprecedented scale with one child already being pushed into severe malnutrition every minute, and 8 million children are at risk of death in 15 crisis-affected countries unless they receive immediate treatment.
Globally, almost 50 million people are living in emergency or catastrophic levels of acute hunger. The impact of such sheer volumes of people experiencing extreme hunger will have devastating and lifelong impacts on children’s rights to health, nutrition, education, protection and survival if we don’t act now.
We, the CEOs of the six largest child-focused NGOs, united under the Joining Forces Alliance, have come together to express our shared concern about the devastating impacts on children.
Famine is preventable and has no place in the 21st century. In 2017, we demonstrated the power of collective action to avert famine in Somalia. As an international community we have a collective responsibility to ensure that urgent action is taken to prevent the deaths of hundreds of thousands of children. We cannot wait for famine to be declared before acting.
Over half the deaths in the 2011 Somalia famine, where 260,000 tragically lost their lives, took place before famine was declared. Half of all those that died were children under five years of age.
As organisations that work directly with children, families and communities around the world we see daily the devastating toll that the compounding effects of conflict, climate change and, Covid-19 and the ripple effects of the conflict in Ukraine are having.
The hunger and nutrition crisis is already having profound consequences for children including, threatening child survival and protection and increasing the risk of severe and acute malnutrition. Children are at heightened risk of violence, exploitation and abuse due to dropping out of school, forced labour, recruitment and use by armed forces or armed groups and family separation. Children without parental care are especially vulnerable to food insecurity and its multiple effects.
Girls are at particular risk of child, early and forced marriage, early pregnancy, school drop-out, sexual exploitation and abuse. When food is scarce, girls and women often eat less and last.
The rights and needs of children must be prioritised in the response to this crisis. We cannot continue with a business-as-usual approach. The response must be grounded in children’s needs and aspirations, and empower young people as agents of change.
Governments and donors must urgently act to prevent massive loss of life and protect children from life-long lasting negative consequences for millions of children.
Food security is not a privilege but a right enshrined in the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights. International leadership and political will must drive both an immediate response and tackle the root causes of hunger, such as conflict, economic shocks, climate change and unequal access to agriculture resources, through collaborative and locally driven solutions.
We can address the impacts of the food crisis while protecting lives and building resilience against protracted crisis and future shocks.
* Joining Forces is an alliance of the six largest international NGOs working with and for children to secure their rights and end violence against them. The CEOs are: Meg Gardinier, ChildFund Alliance; Stephen Omollo, Plan International; Inger Ashing, Save the Children International; Ingrid Johansen, SOS Children’s Villages International; Valérie Ceccherini, Terre des Hommes; Andrew Morley, World Vision
July 2022
Global hunger crisis pushing one child into severe malnutrition every minute in 15 crisis-hit countries. (UNICEF)
Almost 8 million children under 5 in 15 crisis-hit countries are at risk of death from severe wasting unless they receive immediate therapeutic food and care – with the number rising by the minute, UNICEF warned today.
Since the start of the year, the escalating global food crisis has forced an additional 260,000 children – or one child every 60 seconds – to suffer from severe wasting in 15 countries bearing the brunt of the crisis, including in the Horn of Africa and the Central Sahel. This rise in severe wasting is in addition to existing levels of child undernutrition that UNICEF warned amounted to a ‘virtual tinderbox’ last month.
“We are now seeing the tinderbox of conditions for extreme levels of child wasting begin to catch fire,” said UNICEF Executive Director Catherine Russell. “Food aid is critical, but we cannot save starving children with bags of wheat. We need to reach these children now with therapeutic treatment before it is too late.”
Soaring food prices driven by the war in Ukraine, persistent drought due to climate change in some countries, at times combined with conflict, and the ongoing economic impact of COVID-19 continue to drive up children’s food and nutrition insecurity worldwide, resulting in catastrophic levels of severe malnutrition in children under 5.
In response, UNICEF is scaling up its efforts in 15 most affected countries. Afghanistan, Burkina Faso, Chad, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ethiopia, Haiti, Kenya, Madagascar, Mali, Niger, Nigeria, Somalia, South Sudan, Sudan, and Yemen will be included in an acceleration plan to help avert an explosion of child deaths and mitigate the long-term damage of severe wasting.
Severe wasting – where children are too thin for their height – is the most visible and lethal form of undernutrition. Weakened immune systems increase the risk of death among children under 5 by up to 11 times compared to well-nourished children.
Within the 15 countries, UNICEF estimates that at least 40 million children are severely nutrition insecure, meaning they are not receiving the bare minimum diverse diet they need to grow and develop in early childhood.
Further, 21 million children are severely food insecure, meaning they lack access to enough food to meet minimum food needs, leaving them at high risk of severe wasting.
Meanwhile, the price of ready-to-use therapeutic food to treat severe wasting has soared by 16 per cent in recent weeks due to a sharp rise in the cost of raw ingredients, leaving up to 600,000 additional children without access to life-saving treatment and at risk of death.
UNICEF is calling for urgent funding of US$ 1.2 billion to:
Deliver an essential package of nutrition services and care to avert what could be millions of child deaths in 15 highest burden countries, including prevention programmes to protect maternal and child nutrition among pregnant women and young children, early detection and treatment programmes for children with severe wasting, and the procurement, and distribution of ready-to-use therapeutic food.
Prioritize the prevention and treatment of severe wasting in all global food crisis response plans by ensuring budget allocations include preventive nutrition interventions as well as therapeutic food to address the immediate needs of children suffering from severe wasting.
“It is hard to describe what it means for a child to be ‘severely wasted,’ but when you meet a child who is suffering from this most lethal form of malnutrition, you understand – and you never forget,” said Russell.
“World leaders have a small window of opportunity to act to save these children’s lives. There is no time to waste. Waiting for famine to be declared is waiting for children to die.”

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