Malnutrition leads to serious health problems for children | Photo: Mustafa Satkin/ZUMA Wire
Malnutrition leads to serious health problems for children | Photo: Mustafa Satkin/ZUMA Wire

The UN children's fund says acute malnutrition affects an estimated two million children in Afghanistan, and hundreds of thousands are at risk of death from its most severe form. Unicef says it urgently needs money to address the problem.

In Afghanistan, two million children under the age of five are suffering from acute malnutrition, Unicef says. Of these, 600,000 children have severe acute malnutrition, the most dangerous form of undernutrition in children. The agency says Afghanistan, Yemen and South Sudan currently have the highest numbers of children under five suffering from severe acute malnutrition,

Lack of funding to face emergency 

Unicef says children with severe acute malnutrition are 11 times more likely to die than their healthy peers. Acute malnutrition reduces resistance to disease, and in Afghanistan, only one in two children is vaccinated. The consequences also include lifelong physical and cognitive impairment. 

In 2018, Unicef, the sole provider of Ready-to-Use Therapeutic Food (RUTF) for malnourished children in Afghanistan, could target less than 50 percent of severely malnourished children due to limited supplies. In 2019, it hopes to reach 60 percent of them (375,000). 

"We will not reach them if we do not get - within 3 weeks - the required funding of US$7m (equivalent to 107,000 cartons of RUTF)," said Christophe Boulierac, Unicef spokesperson in Geneva. "If we do not get this funding within three weeks, we will not be able to procure, bring in and distribute the required supplies to the 1,300 health facilities supported by Unicef across all 34 provinces of Afghanistan," he said. 

Drought worsened child malnutrition 

Unicef says the situation in Afghanistan is complex because of continued violence, climatic extremes (droughts and flash floods), multiple displacements, growing food insecurity and improper feeding habits. The impact of a drought in 2018 has contributed to the current extent of child malnutrition.

The findings of the most recent nutrition surveys across Afghanistan also show that 22 out of 34 provinces are currently above the emergency threshold of acute malnutrition. "We have had to put on hold the plan to further decentralize treatment bringing it closer to children in need due to limited resources," Boulierac said. "Without an improvement in the overall food and nutrition security situation, which requires urgent funding, the nutritional status of children in Afghanistan is likely to further deteriorate."


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