ZIMBABWE faces its worst malnutrition crisis in 15 years, with tens of thousands of children requiring urgent treatment, UNICEF said on Tuesday as the government announced four million people need food aid.
Poor rains induced by the El Nino weather phenomenon have hampered food production, and diminishing reserves have left many people in rural parts of Zimbabwe short of essential supplies.
The number of hungry families doubled in the past eight months “as nearly 33 000 children are in urgent need of treatment for severe acute malnutrition,” UNICEF representative Jane Muita said in a statement.
“We have not seen these levels of malnutrition in more than 15 years and… more needs to be done to prevent this crisis from spiralling out of control.”
“Severe acute malnutrition” is defined as extreme hunger causing visible wasting and fluid retention.
“Water scarcity is also exposing children to higher risks of diarrhoea, typhoid and other waterborne diseases including cholera,” Muita added.
UNICEF is requesting $21m in aid to meet the needs of children in Zimbabwe.
“Without additional funding, UNICEF 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” reads part of the statemen.
The UN agency added that the two consecutive seasons of failed rains have diminished food harvests and reserves, increased hunger and malnutrition, dried up water sources and decimated livestock, with children particularly girls now walking longer distances in search of the precious liquid.
“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 diarrhoea, typhoid and other water-borne disease including cholera.”
Some families are saving dwindling stocks by skipping meals, while schoolchildren are missing classes due to hunger, according to local media reports.
In addition to the effects of severe drought, Zimbabwe has suffered perennial grain shortages after land reforms under which commercial farms owned by whites were redistributed to landless blacks.
The state media on Tuesday quoted social welfare minister Prisca Mupfumira as saying up to four million people required food assistance nationwide.