UN: More than a million children in Afghanistan could face severe malnutrition

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According to the United Nations (UN), more than one million Afghan children under the age of 5 are likely to face the most severe form of malnutrition this year.

Although the agency may have helped avert outright starvation after the Taliban took over the country in 2021, it would struggle to keep pace with deteriorating conditions.

UN agencies now provide food aid to 38% of the population and nearly 23 million people there now face acute food insecurity.

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About 65% of Afghans are children and young people.

Poverty and rising prices resulting from the war in Ukraine are also part of this reality, according to a UN assessment report published in May.

In Afghanistan, 1.1 million children are expected to suffer from severe wasting, nearly double the number in 2018.

A malnourished baby is weighed at Indira Gandhi Hospital in Kabul, Afghanistan, Sunday, May 22, 2022. Some 1.1 million Afghan children under the age of five will face malnutrition by the end of the year, because the hospital departments are already full of sick children.
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A malnourished baby is weighed at Indira Gandhi Hospital in Kabul, Afghanistan, Sunday, May 22, 2022. Some 1.1 million Afghan children under the age of five will face malnutrition by the end of the year, because the hospital departments are already full of sick children.
(AP Photo/Ebrahim Noroozi)

Severe wasting occurs when children are too thin for their height, which weakens their immune system.

It is the most immediate, visible and deadliest form of malnutrition and at least 13.6 million children under the age of five suffer from severe wasting worldwide. It accounts for 1 in 5 deaths in this age group worldwide.

“Even before the war in Ukraine severely tested food security around the world, conflict, climate shocks and COVID-19 were already taking their toll on families’ ability to feed their children,” said Catherine Russell. , Executive Director of the United Nations International Children’s Fund (UNICEF). said in a statement. “The world is rapidly becoming a virtual powder keg of preventable child deaths and children suffering from wasting.”

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The number of children under 5 admitted to health facilities suffering from severe acute malnutrition has been steadily increasing.

Globally, at least 2 in 3 severely wasted children already lack access to the most effective treatment for wasting, ready-to-use therapeutic foods (RUTF). The price of this treatment is expected to increase by up to 16% over the next six months due to the sharp increase in the cost of ingredients.

Persistent drought has been the main driver of food security, due to climate change, and is compounded by a lack of access to clean water and medical care.

As the number of people facing food insecurity rose from 22.8 million last year to 19.7 million in May, the IPC – a partnership between the UN and other agencies that assess food security food – noted that small reductions are “far from indicating a positive trend”.

An Afghan mother sits by her child's bed in the malnutrition ward of Indira Gandhi Hospital in Kabul, Afghanistan, Sunday, May 22, 2022.

An Afghan mother sits by her child’s bed in the malnutrition ward of Indira Gandhi Hospital in Kabul, Afghanistan, Sunday, May 22, 2022.
(AP Photo/Ebrahim Noroozi)

Alarmingly, aid to waste is expected to decline sharply in the years to come.

The IPC said the proportion of those receiving food aid could drop to just 8% over the next six months, as only $601 million of the $4.4 billion needed has been received from the global community. .

Just over $2 billion has been pledged.

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UNICEF has opened about 1,000 treatment sites in Afghanistan where parents can bring their malnourished children.

“There is simply no reason for a child to suffer from severe wasting – not when we have the capacity to prevent it. But there is little time left to reinvigorate a global effort to prevent, detect and treat wasting. malnutrition before a bad situation becomes too bad, much worse,” Russell said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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