Nearly a million children across southern and eastern Africa are suffering from “severe acute malnutrition” after two years of drought and the strongest El Niño weather effects in 50 years.
The disclosure, by the UN Children’s Fund, was made as a senior World Bank official warned that the drought was impoverishing thousands of South Africans.
Catriona Purfield, the bank’s programme leader in South Africa, told a parliamentary committee that the drought had pushed 50000 people below the R501 a month poverty line.
According to Unicef, children in Southern and East Africa face worsening food and water shortages, and rising prices are exacerbating the situation as families are forced to skip meals and sell belongings.
“Severe acute malnutrition” is defined as extreme hunger, causing a very low weight-to-height ratio, visible wasting and fluid retention,” said Unicef regional director Leila Gharagozloo-Pakkala.
“The El Niño weather phenomenon will wane but the cost to children – many whom were already living hand-to-mouth – will be felt for years to come.
“Governments are responding with available resources but this is an unprecedented situation. Children’s survival is dependent on action taken today.”
Unicef is running humanitarian appeals calling for $87-million for Ethiopia, $26-million for Angola and $15-million for Somalia.
Lesotho, Zimbabwe and most of South Africa have declared drought emergencies, and in Ethiopia the number of people in need of food assistance is expected to increase from 10million to 18million this year.
Malawi is facing its worst food crisis in nine years, with 2.8million people at risk of hunger and “severe acute malnutrition” doubling in only two months.
“The statistics are staggering,” said Megan Gilgan, Unicef regional emergency adviser.”