Aissata Kanitao, 6 months, eats ready-to-use therapeutic food at her home in Mopti, central Mali. Aissata suffered from acute malnutrition so severe that she stopped moving. I was in total despair, remembers her father, Boureima Kanitao. I was mentally prepared to lose my child. Today, Aissata is on the road to recovery thanks to therapeutic foods. UNICEF supplies therapeutic milk and ready-to-use therapeutic foods to all health districts in Mali. In 2019, support from ECHO has helped UNICEF and its principal partner, the Ministry of Health, treat more than 22,000 children suffering from severe acute malnutrition. Photo courtesy of UNICEF official website
Over 7 million children under five continue to suffer from malnutrition, necessitating urgent nutrition aid. According to UNICEF, 1.9 million boys and girls are at risk of dying from severe malnutrition.
The region is slowly recovering from one of the worst droughts in 40 years. As a result of insufficient rainfall over the course of the last three years, vulnerable communities have lost cattle, crops, and their entire livelihoods.
"The crisis in the Horn has been devastating for children," said Mohamed Fall, UNICEF regional director for Eastern and Southern Africa.
"Over the past three years, communities have been forced to take extreme measures to survive, with millions of children and families leaving their homes out of pure desperation in search of food and water. This crisis has deprived children of the essentials of childhood, having enough to eat, a home, safe water, and going to school."
Across the region, 23 million people are facing high levels of acute food insecurity in Ethiopia, Kenya, and Somalia.
The number of severely malnourished children seeking treatment in the first quarter of this year remains much higher than last year and will likely remain high for quite a while.
On top of nutrition needs, extreme weather, insecurity, and scarcity have also had devastating consequences for women and children, worsening the risk of gender-based violence, sexual exploitation and abuse.
Major outbreaks including cholera, measles, malaria, and other diseases are ongoing across the region, worsened by extreme weather conditions and fragile health systems.
Food prices remain high in local markets, burdening children and families. The climate crisis is compounding the severity of the situation, worsening mass displacement, malnutrition, and disease.
Fall underlined the need for greater funding. Thanks to donor support, UNICEF was able to provide services for the prevention of malnutrition to over 30 million children and mothers in 2022.
"This year, further flexible funding will not just help children recover from a crisis of this magnitude, but also go towards developing more resilient, sustainable systems for children in the region, that can withstand future climate impacts and other shocks," he said.