The most dramatic face of human misery. Hunger, which consumes the body and soul of those who simply have nothing to eat. When hunger takes over children it seems to be even more cruel and appears to be a sign that we have failed as a society. In the 21st century at a time when humanity has already achieved so many things in different fields, continues to explore space and new technologies are introduced daily, it is difficult to understand how children keep dying of hunger and malnutrition.
According to UNICEF approximately 3.1 million children die from undernutrition each year (UNICEF, 2018). Hunger and undernutrition contribute to more than half of global child deaths, as undernutrition can make children more vulnerable to illness and exacerbate disease.
The current global economic and social scenario, 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 five, according to the global organization.
To learn a little more about how UNICEF is dealing with this catastrophe and the plans to help these millions of children who rely on their assistance as their only way to survive, we reached out to UNICEF Canada.
Ahead of the G7 summit, which is taking place in Germany on June 26-28, UNICEF appeals for US$1.2 billion to meet urgent needs of 8 million children at risk of death from severe wasting. On Thursday, during a visit to Rwanda, Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced the country will provide $250 million to the United Nations to address a food crisis exacerbated by supply chain constraints and high inflation after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Milénio Stadium: Hunger and undernutrition among children is a reality especially in developing countries. How is the new worldwide economic crisis, with the food shortage and increase in food prices, contributing to aggravating this problem?
UNICEF Canada: The world is facing serious challenges that are intersecting, inequitable and impossible to ignore. One of these challenges is the global hunger crisis. 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.
Meanwhile, the price of ready-to-use therapeutic food (the most effective treatment for wasting) is projected to increase by up to 16 per cent over the next six months due to a sharp rise in the cost of raw ingredients. This could leave up to 600,000 additional children without access to life-saving treatment at current spending levels. Shipping and delivery costs are also expected to remain high.
MS: What are the effects that hunger and malnutrition can cause to children and societies?
UNICEF Canada: Hunger and malnutrition cause disastrous effects on children’s lives and well-being.
The world is witnessing a global food crisis beginning to erupt, and it’s already having a devastating impact on children. An estimated 275 million people are living in acute hunger today, more than double the number in 2019, and 44 million are at risk of famine. And just since the start of the year, the deteriorating 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 the Horn of Africa and the Central Sahel. Levels of severe malnutrition are increasing precisely in places where the risk of mortality is the highest. In situations of extreme food insecurity, children are at increased risk of death because their survival depends on access to nutritious, affordable and consistently available food.
There is simply no reason why a child should suffer from hunger or severe wasting – not when we have the ability to prevent it.
MS: UNICEF released a new Child Alert warning that the number of children with severe wasting was rising even before war in Ukraine threatened to plunge the world deeper into a spiralling global food crisis – and it is getting worse. How can organizations, governments and society contribute to ease this situation?
UNICEF Canada: To reach every child with life-saving treatment for severe wasting, UNICEF is calling for governments to increase wasting aid by at least 59 per cent above 2019 ODA (Official Development Assistance) levels to help reach all children in need of treatment in 23 high burden countries; countries to include treatment for child wasting under health and long-term development funding schemes so that all children can benefit from treatment programs, not just those in humanitarian crisis settings; ensure that budget allocations to address the global hunger crisis include specific allocations for therapeutic food interventions to address the immediate needs of children suffering from severe wasting and donors and civil society organizations to prioritize funding for wasting to ensure a diverse, growing and a healthy ecosystem of donor support.
MS: Even rich countries are facing economic difficulties due to the world economic crisis. For example, “The Canadian Index of Child and Youth Well-Being” reports that 1 in 4 young people in Canada, will sometimes go to bed or school hungry. How concerned is your organization about this situation?
UNICEF Canada: UNICEF Canada is concerned about the impact of economic uncertainty on children everywhere, including here in Canada. At a minimum, we’re calling on government at all levels to maintain funding for children and youth in the face of potential austerity budgets. Of particular concern to us here in Canada is the growing inequality between households, which effects not only the material well-being of children, but their mental health, social development, and long-term economic prospects as well. We need a strategy that prioritizes child well-being and insulates them from the worst impacts of future recessions. UNICEF Canada believes the Canada Child Benefit should be improved to ensure no child lives in poverty and that every student should be able to access healthy meal at school every school day.