The United Nations Children’s Education Fund (UNICEF) says Zimbabwe is facing its worst malnutrition rates in 15 years, as nearly 33,000 children are in urgent need of treatment for severe acute malnutrition.
It said as an El Nino-induced drought sweeps across large parts of the country, the number of hungry families in the country has doubled in the past eight months.
“Children are enduring the greatest force of this crisis,” said acting UNICEF representative, Dr. Jane Muita, adding that, “we have not seen these levels of malnutrition in more than 15 years and although the government and its partners are doing their best to assist, more needs to be done to prevent this crisis from spiraling out of control.”
UNICEF said that two consecutive seasons of failed rains have diminished food harvests and reserves, increased hunger and malnutrition, dried up water sources and decimated livestock.
According to the Zimbabwe Vulnerability Assessment Survey released last month, nearly 2.8 million people in rural Zimbabwe (30 per cent of the rural population) will require food assistance, of which 1.4 million are children aged 18 years and below.
The impact of the drought on households, according to the survey, is particularly stark and children are being adversely affected in many ways.
The report indicates that the proportion of hungry households had more than doubled from 16 per cent in May 2015 to 37 per cent in January 2016 and overall, 2.1 per cent of children under-five years have severe acute malnutrition.
“This is slightly higher than the international threshold of 2 per cent required for an emergency response. Global acute malnutrition has hit 5.7 per cent, the highest ever reached in the last 15 years.
The majority of children with severe acute malnutrition are aged between 1-2 years. This is also the age group where oedema (swelling of arms and feet as a result of excess water retention) is most prevalent and on average, 35 per cent of households have inadequate water supply for domestic use.”
Water scarcity is forcing children, especially girls, to walk even longer distances in search of water. Inadequate water is also exposing children to higher risks of diarrhea, typhoid and other water-borne disease including cholera.
UNICEF is now requesting US$21 million to meet the humanitarian needs of children in Zimbabwe in 2016. Without additional funding, the organization noted that it will be unable to continue to respond to the humanitarian needs of children in nutrition, health, water and sanitation, HIV and AIDS, education and child protection services.
“Interventions will focus on supporting vulnerable and disadvantaged women and children to withstand, adapt to and recover from this crisis.”
Blessing Zindi who is UNICEF's emergency specialist said they have been reacting to humanitarian situations of women and children in Zimbabwe and even at a global scale.
"In Zimbabwe we have got areas that we will be looking at as UNICEF. The first area that we will be looking at is the area of health and nutrition," Zindi said.
He added that their focus will be on children that have got acute malnutrition in its most severe form who will receive what they call therapeutic food.