The U.N. Children’s Fund warns poor rainfall and the El Nino weather phenomenon are putting hundreds of thousands of children at risk of hunger and disease in parts of eastern and southern Africa.
Some countries in eastern and southern Africa have endured two seasons of poor or non-existent rainfall. This situation is being exacerbated by a strong El Nino, a warming weather phenomenon that is expected to peak in the first few months of the new year.
The U.N. children’s fund reports the well-being of hundreds of thousands of children already suffering from food shortages is likely to worsen under these conditions.
For example, it notes more than 10 million people in Ethiopia are going hungry and this number is likely to increase to 15 million in 2016. It says 350,000 children could need treatment for severe acute malnutrition next year.
A mother carrying her baby in a basket is screened for malnutrition at a joint UNICEF-World Food Program Rapid Response Mission, which delivers critical supplies and services to those displaced by conflict, in Nyanapol, South Sudan, March 3, 2015.
UNICEF reports food emergencies are affecting around 855,000 people in Somalia, and the number of people currently short of food in Zimbabwe is expected to triple between January and March to 1.5 million.
The U.N. agency said it is particularly concerned about high levels of malnutrition among young children in Malawi.
Spokesman Christophe Boulierac said UNICEF is carrying out a mass screening for malnutrition in children under the age of 5 across 90 percent of the country.
“We fear hunger in Malawi where almost half of the children are already undernourished because Malawi struggles to cope with drought and with the first maize deficit in a decade," said Boulierac.
Boulierac says Malawi has been taking a beating from a combination of terrible weather events. He says El Nino, severe flooding and a prolonged drought, as well as a stagnant economy have added to the country’s food shortages.
“A recent Vulnerability Assessment revealed that 2.8 million people in Malawi are in need of urgent food aid," said Boulierac. "Even if official figures are saying that malnutrition cases are not increasing, we know from past experience that this may not be the whole story.”
UNICEF estimates nearly 4 percent of Malawian children under the age of 5 suffer from severe acute malnutrition, a fatal condition for young children.'
The agency said its screening program is designed to ferret out vulnerable children so they can be given life-saving therapeutic treatment before it is too late.