UN agencies have warned that an estimated 6.3 million children under five, in six countries in Africa’s Sahel region, will suffer from wasting in 2022, urging countries to scale-up action to combat malnutrition.
UN agencies and their partners gave the warning in a publication issued on Wednesday.
The West and Central African Nutrition working group fears at least 900,000 young lives could be at risk across Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania, Niger and Senegal.
They said the number of under-fives in the region expected to suffer from global acute malnutrition had never been so high, with a 27 per cent increase expected in 2022 compared to 2021, making it the fifth consecutive year of record highs.
The working group brings together UN agencies such as UNICEF, the World Food Programme (WFP), and the World Health Organisation (WHO), and NGOs, which include Action Against Hunger (ACF), Concern, and Save the Children.
Their joint note advocates for a paradigm shift to both urgently respond to immediate needs and address the root causes of malnutrition.
“As conflicts, insecurity, socio-economic crises and recurrent extreme climatic events in the region continue to deteriorate.
“The conflicts further aggravate the nutrition of children; we need to shift to ‘business unusual’ to address their needs in a sustainable way,” Marie-Pierre Poirier, UNICEF Regional Director for West and Central Africa said.
“While treatment remains an imperative to save the lives of children most severely affected, we must shift the paradigm and focus on scaling interventions to prevent malnutrition, especially in the most affected locations.
“The time has come to address the root causes of malnutrition of children in the region with determination and urgency.
“The partners are calling for a multi-sectoral approach to address multiple underlying factors, including widespread food insecurity; inadequate dietary and care practices for infants.
Others are young children; poor maternal nutrition, high incidence of childhood illnesses; inadequate access to water, sanitation and health services, as well as gender and other social norms.
The working group said a total of 93.4 million dollars was required to prevent wasting among children, and pregnant and lactating mothers, based on data from nine countries.
“However, there is a 56.2 million dollars funding gap, including 26.3 million dollars to cover needs during the lean season, running from June to September.
“For treatment of wasting, the funding shortfall is 77.5 million dollars, of which 42 million dollars is needed to treat severe wasting, the most life-threatening form of malnutrition.
“At the same time, longer-term and flexible investments for nutrition are required to sustainably address financing issues, including on the part of governments.
“And now the Ukraine crisis is leading to an inflation of the food prices, increasing the pressure on the populations already heavily impacted by the crises.
“A severe food and nutrition insecurity is near if we do not act now in all the hot spots,” Mamadou Diop, Regional Representative for ACF said.
Currently, only 21 per cent of young children, from six to 23 months, receive the minimum number of food groups to grow well.