El Niño threatens to worsen Zim’s child hunger crisis – UNICEF

Staff Writer

Zimbabwe is among a growing number of countries facing a severe child hunger crisis, according to a new report by UNICEF.

The report reveals that a quarter of all children under five globally – some 181 million – are experiencing severe food poverty. This lack of access to nutritious meals makes them significantly more likely to suffer from wasting, a life-threatening form of malnutrition.

In Zimbabwe, the situation is particularly concerning with the report identifying 580,000 children already facing severe food poverty. This number is likely to climb due to the ongoing El Niño-induced drought, which is impacting crop yields and food security across the country.

What and how children are fed in early childhood determines their survival and shapes their growth, development and learning for the rest of their lives.

But hundreds of thousands of Zimbabwean children – especially the youngest aged between six months and two years, the poorest and the most marginalised – do not have access to the minimum nutritious foods they need during the time in their lives when good nutrition matters most for their growth and development.

In Zimbabwe, the long-term impacts of COVID-19 on child diet quality are still being seen, with the addition of multiple health outbreaks, including cholera, the impacts of the climate crisis, and rising food prices. These factors are all driving child food poverty in Zimbabwe.

“Food insecurity among Zimbabwean children could further deteriorate in 2024 with the El Niño-induced drought that has caused above-average temperatures and below average rainfall, with a ‘historic’ mid-season dry spell over the 2023/2024 agricultural season,” UNICEF Representative in Zimbabwe Nicholas Alipui said.

“It is urgent to address child food poverty today to avoid more children being pushed into a life-threatening status of severe malnutrition.”

According to the global UNICEF report children who consume two or less of the eight defined food groups are considered to be in severe child food poverty. Children who consume three or four food groups per day are experiencing moderate food poverty, while children who are fed five or more of the eight defined food groups are not considered to be in food poverty.

In Zimbabwe, less than one in ten children consume a daily diet containing five or more food groups, with the frequency required to ensure optimal growth and development.

The UNICEF report highlights a concerning link – that children living in severe food poverty are up to 50% more likely to suffer from life-threatening malnutrition.

In line with Zimbabwe’s Nutrition Narrative, the Government of Zimbabwe with UNICEF and other partners, is implementing activities, under the Multi-Sectoral Food and Nutrition Security Strategy, to improve children’s diet diversity and prevent all forms of malnutrition.

These activities focus on making nutrient-dense foods more available and accessible at household level through a network of community-based support programmes to caregivers known as Care Groups, with links to relevant services in health, water, sanitation and hygiene, social protection, and agriculture.

“To scale up community-based nutrition activities, additional support is needed from Government, development and humanitarian partners, national and international civil society and non-governmental organizations, and the private sector,” Alipui said.

Community-based nutrition programmes addressing child food poverty among the children of Zimbabwe are essential to delivering nutritious, safe and affordable foods and essential nutrition services for children throughout the country.

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