11m children live in severe food poverty in region: Unicef

In the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region, around 34 million children under five years of age, or three in every five, are experiencing child food poverty, said a new UNICEF report said, highlighting results from around 100 countries around the world, including nine in the region.

Over 20%, or one in five, live in severe child food poverty, it said.

The repercussions of these rising child food poverty levels are reflected in the large number of children suffering from wasting, where in 3.5 million children out of the total of around 55 million under 5 years of age children in the Middle East and North Africa region suffer from this most life-threatening form of malnutrition.

This is most alarming. The UNICEF report warns that children living in severe child food poverty are 50% more likely to experience wasting.

The report underscores the exacerbating effects of inequities, conflicts, and the climate crises – all of which are common in the region – on food prices and the cost of living.

The persistent protracted crises, the ongoing conflicts, and the economic instability in the region significantly impact children’s access to nutritious and diverse foods.

It is estimated that around half of the children facing severe food poverty receive either starchy staples only or starchy staples with either dairy products or breastmilk, reflecting a very poor diet.

Of the 11 million children living in severe child food poverty across the MENA countries, a significant number reside in conflict-affected areas.

In Syria and Yemen, for example, prolonged conflict has left 30% and 27% of children respectively living in severe child food poverty.

In the Gaza Strip, the relentless hostilities and restrictions on humanitarian access have left 9 out of 10 children experiencing severe food poverty, demonstrating a staggering escalation in nutrition deprivation compared to only 13 per cent in 2020.

Similarly, previous data from Sudan – not included in this latest report – show that nearly 5 million children live in food poverty; of those, 2 million live in severe child food poverty. This is only worsened by the current conflict and displacement.

Meanwhile in Lebanon, the compounded financial and political crises have had adverse impact on the children’s nutritional status, with more than 75% of them living in food poverty, of whom 21% are in severe child food poverty.

Beyond conflicts and crises, the report also indicates that income poverty is a major driver of severe child food poverty. Among relatively wealthier families, poor food environments and feeding practices are the main drivers of child food poverty.

UNICEF calls for action through a collective effort from governments, development and humanitarian partners, donors, civil society organisations, and the food and beverage industry. Efforts should prioritise the following actions:

Transforming food systems to ensure widespread availability of a diverse range of nutritious and affordable foods that are the preferred choice for caregivers to feed their young children.

Investing in robust health systems to deliver essential nutrition services that prevent and address malnutrition in early childhood and to better integrate nutrition in the humanitarian health response in crises and conflict situations.

Strengthening and expanding social protection programs to address income poverty through targeted social transfers (cash, food, or vouchers) that directly meet the food and nutrition needs of vulnerable children and their families. This is especially crucial in conflict and emergency contexts. – TradeArabia News Service