Poverty, illiteracy and early deaths await world’s most disadvantaged children
by Anthony Lake, Geert Cappelaere
15 May 2017
At least one in four children live in poverty in the Middle East and North Africa
According to a recent UNICEF analysis covering 11 countries in the Middle East and North Africa, poverty continues to impact at least 29 million children – one in four children in the region. These children are deprived of the minimum requirements in two or more of the most basic life necessities including basic education, decent housing, nutritious food, quality health care, safe water, sanitation and access to information.
“Child poverty is about so much more than family income – it’s about access to quality education, healthcare, a home and safe water. When children are deprived of the basics, they are at risk of getting trapped in a vicious cycle of poverty,” said Geert Cappelaere, UNICEF Regional Director for the Middle East and North Africa (MENA), at a regional conference on child poverty held in Rabat, Morocco.
Country level information on child poverty has been aggregated for the first time in the MENA region. While important progress has been made in most countries to reduce poverty, the number of children living in poverty continues to be high. Countries affected by conflict are seeing a rapid regression of gains made in past decades.
The study’s key findings include:
• Lack of education was found to be one of the key drivers of inequality and poverty for children. Children who live in households that are headed by an uneducated family member are twice as likely to live in poverty. One quarter of children aged 5 to 17 are not enrolled in school or have fallen two grades behind.
• Almost half of all children live in inadequate housing with poor flooring and overcrowding.
• Almost half of all children are not fully immunized or were born to mothers who did not get enough antenatal care or birth assistance.
• One in five children are forced to walk more than 30 minutes to fetch water or use unsafe drinking water. More than one third of children live in homes with no tap water.
Major challenges stand in the way of measuring the impact of poverty on children and taking collective action towards poverty alleviation. To start with, countries in the region don’t consistently collect data on poverty while widespread and ongoing violence and displacement make it extremely difficult to get data from conflict-affected countries. Absence of a full understanding of children’s reality, including the most marginalised or invisible, risks that existing policies and actions fall short from addressing child poverty effectively.
“The return on investing in the most vulnerable children now is a peaceful and prosperous region in the future” said Cappelaere. “It takes a combination of true leadership and courageous public and private investment from governments, civil society, private sector, individuals and the international community”. http://uni.cf/2pRM0JJ
Poverty, illiteracy and early deaths await world’s most disadvantaged children
Based on current trends, 69 million children under five will die from mostly preventable causes, 167 million children will live in poverty, and 750 million women will have been married as children by 2030, the target date for the Sustainable Development Goals – unless the world focuses more on the plight of its most disadvantaged children, according to a new UNICEF report.
The 2016 State of the World’s Children, UNICEF’s annual flagship report, paints a stark picture of what is in store for the world’s poorest children if governments, donors, businesses and international organizations do not accelerate efforts to address their needs.
“Denying hundreds of millions of children a fair chance in life does more than threaten their futures – by fueling intergenerational cycles of disadvantage, it imperils the future of their societies,” said UNICEF Executive Director Anthony Lake.
“We have a choice: Invest in these children now or allow our world to become still more unequal and divided.”
The report notes that significant progress has been made in saving children’s lives, getting children into school and lifting people out of poverty. Global under-five mortality rates have been more than halved since 1990, boys and girls attend primary school in equal numbers in 129 countries, and the number of people living in extreme poverty worldwide is almost half what it was in the 1990s.
But this progress has been neither even nor fair, the report says. The poorest children are twice as likely to die before their fifth birthday and to be chronically malnourished than the richest.
Across much of South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa, children born to mothers with no education are almost 3 times more likely to die before they are 5 than those born to mothers with a secondary education. And girls from the poorest households are twice as likely to marry as children than girls from the wealthiest households.
Nowhere is the outlook grimmer than in sub-Saharan Africa, where at least 247 million children – or 2 in 3 – live in multidimensional poverty, deprived of what they need to survive and develop, and where nearly 60 per cent of 20- to 24-year-olds from the poorest fifth of the population have had less than four years of schooling. At current trends, the report projects, by 2030, sub-Saharan Africa will account for:
• Nearly half of the 69 million children who will die before their fifth birthday from mostly preventable causes;
• More than half of the 60 million children of primary school age who will still be out of school; and 9 out of 10 children living in extreme poverty.
Although education plays a unique role in levelling the playing field for children, the number of children who do not attend school has increased since 2011, and a significant proportion of those who do go to school are not learning. About 124 million children today do not go to primary- and lower-secondary school, and almost 2 in 5 who do finish primary school have not learned how to read, write or do simple arithmetic.
The report points to evidence that investing in the most vulnerable children can yield immediate and long-term benefits.
Cash transfers, for example, have been shown to help children stay in school longer and advance to higher levels of education. On average, each additional year of education a child receives increases his or her adult earnings by about 10 per cent. And for each additional year of schooling completed, on average, by young adults in a country, that country’s poverty rates fall by 9 per cent.
Inequity is neither inevitable, nor insurmountable, the report argues. Better data on the most vulnerable children, integrated solutions to the challenges children face, innovative ways to address old problems, more equitable investment and increased involvement by communities – all these measures can help level the playing field for children.
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27 million people lack safe water in countries facing or at risk of famine
by Manuel Fontaine
UNICEF Director of Emergency Programmes
25 Apr 2017
#FacingFamine: Update on Yemen, Somalia, South Sudan and Northeast Nigeria - Report from the World Food Programme
Twenty million people in 4 countries - Northeast Nigeria, Somalia, South Sudan and Yemen - are at an elevated risk of famine, and a further 10 million are in crisis. Famine has already been declared in two counties in South Sudan, affecting 100,000 and with another 1 million on the brink of it.
Some of the most vulnerable people in the hardest-hit areas are already dying from starvation and disease in the four countries.
It is vital to act before famine is declared. In Somalia, half of the 260,000 people who perished between 2010 and 2012 had died before famine was declared in July 2011.
Prevention works. Malnutrition rates have declined where we or partners had sustained access and delivered food and nutritional supplies for children under age five.
Conflict is the principal driver of the crisis, sparking food insecurity, disrupting markets, limiting trade, destroying assets, leaving households without income or means to access food and displacing whole communities. Eight million people have been displaced as a result of these conflicts.
An associated problem is humanitarian access. A key trend is that the most vulnerable, displaced people are frequently the hardest to reach. For example, in March, Rapid Response teams from WFP-UNICEF could not reach an estimated 100,000 people in NE Nigeria, due to insecurity.
Humanitarian agencies need the international community to exert political pressure to secure full and sustained access to all those in need.
In recent history, the world has not faced this number of multiple food security crises, with four countries facing famine all at once.
Famines can be averted. When they occur, they are an acknowledgement of collective failure by everyone: the United Nations, partners, donors and governments. It is much less costly to avert famine, than to respond to it.
Additionally, long-term development gains are lost.
Conflict and denial of access prevents aid from reaching many people in need, but a lack of funds also has a major impact on lives, forcing WFP and partners to ‘prioritize’, essentially deciding who among the most vulnerable receives limited aid, and who does not.
An immediate injection of funds is required to avert a catastrophe; otherwise, many thousands of people will die from hunger, livelihoods will be lost and communities destroyed. http://www1.wfp.org/facing-famine
* WFP Executive Summary: http://bit.ly/2pjNCPP
29 March 2017
27 million people lack safe water in countries facing or at risk of famine, writes Manuel Fontaine UNICEF Director of Emergency Programmes
Water shortages, inadequate sanitation, poor hygiene practices and disease outbreaks are posing an additional threat to severely malnourished children in northeast Nigeria, Somalia, South Sudan and Yemen, UNICEF said today.
Across the four famine-threatened countries, nearly 27 million people are reliant on unsafe water which, for malnourished children, can lead to fatal diarrheal diseases.
“The combination of malnutrition, dirty water and poor sanitation sets off a vicious cycle from which many children never recover,” said Manuel Fontaine, UNICEF Director of Emergency Programmes.
“Because unsafe water can cause malnutrition or make it worse, no matter how much food a malnourished child eats, he or she will not get better if the water they are drinking is not safe.”
In northeast Nigeria, 75 per cent of water and sanitation infrastructure in conflict-affected areas has been damaged or destroyed, leaving 3.8 million people with no access to safe water. Displaced families are putting enormous pressure on already strained health and water systems in host communities. One third of the 700 health facilities in the hardest-hit state of Borno have been completely destroyed and a similar number are non-functional.
In Somalia, the number of people needing access to water, sanitation and hygiene in the coming weeks is projected to increase from 3.3 million to 4.5 million – about a third of the population.
Many water sources have dried up or are contaminated, toilet facilities are in short supply, and water-borne diseases are rampant. More than 13,000 cases of cholera and acute watery diarrhoea have been reported since the beginning of the year, nearly five times more than in the same period last year.
Water prices have risen six-fold in the remotest areas – putting it out of reach of the poorest families.
In South Sudan, 5.1 million people lack safe water, adequate sanitation and hygiene. Half of the water points in the country have been damaged or destroyed.
As a result of seasonal dry weather, low water tables are reinforcing competition for water among people and animals, with the result that scarce water sources are being over-used.
Lack of adequate sanitation facilities and poor hygiene practices are spreading disease. A cholera outbreak in June 2016 produced more than 5,000 cholera cases and over 100 deaths.
In Yemen, ongoing conflict and mass population displacement have left at least 14.5 million people without adequate drinking water, basic sanitation and hygiene, while causing damage to water infrastructure. An outbreak of cholera and acute watery diarrhoea in October 2016 continues to spread, with over 22,500 suspected cases and 106 deaths.
Almost 2 million children are at risk of diarrheal diseases which, even before the conflict, were the second leading cause of death among children under the age of five.
The primary health care system in the country is on the verge of collapse, putting the lives of millions of children at risk.
“We are working around the clock to save as many lives as we can as fast as we can,” said Fontaine. “But without an end to the conflicts plaguing these countries, without sustainable and unimpeded access to the children in need of support and without more resources, even our best efforts will not be enough.”
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