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‘Catastrophic’ malnutrition awaits children: UNICEF

  • Diplomatic Correspondent
  • 18 May, 2022 12:00 AM
  • Print news
‘Catastrophic’ malnutrition awaits children: UNICEF
Representative image by UNICEF

UNICEF has said the wider pressure on food security, worsening climate change and the price hike could lead to "catastrophic" levels of severe malnutrition.

It said soaring food prices driven by the war in Ukraine and pandemic-fuelled budget cuts set to drive up both need for and cost of life-saving therapeutic food treatment, the latter by up to 16 percent.

The number of children with severe wasting was rising even before the war in Ukraine threatening to plunge the world deeper into a spiralling global food crisis - and it is getting worse, UNICEF warned in a new Child Alert.

Released on Tuesday, ‘Severe wasting: An overlooked child survival emergency’ shows that in spite of rising levels of severe wasting in children and rising costs for life-saving treatment, global financing to save the lives of children suffering from wasting is also under threat.

“Even before the war in Ukraine placed a strain on food security worldwide, conflict, climate shocks and Covid-19 were already wreaking havoc on families’ ability to feed their children,” said UNICEF Executive Director Catherine Russell.

“The world is rapidly becoming a virtual tinderbox of preventable child deaths and child suffering from wasting,” she said.

Currently, at least 10 million severely wasted children – or 2 in 3 – do not have access to the most effective treatment for wasting, ready-to-use therapeutic food (RUTF).

UNICEF has warned that a combination of global shocks to food security worldwide, led by the war in Ukraine, economies struggling with pandemic recovery and persistent drought conditions in some countries due to climate change, is creating conditions for a significant increase in global levels of severe wasting.

Meanwhile, the price of ready-to-use therapeutic food is projected to increase by up to 16 percent over the next six months due to a sharp rise in the cost of raw ingredients. This could leave up to 6 lakh additional children without access to life-saving treatment at current spending levels. Shipping and delivery costs are also expected to remain high.

“For millions of children every year, these sachets of therapeutic paste are the difference between life and death. A sixteen percent price increase may sound manageable in the context of global food markets, but at the end of that supply chain is a desperately malnourished child, for whom the stakes are not manageable at all,” said Russell.