NAIROBI, 16 May 2002 - The United Nations Children's Fund has warned that the unfolding food crisis in southern Africa threatens to become a major humanitarian catastrophe if an immediate and adequate response is not mounted.
"In a region already bearing the full brunt of the HIV/AIDS pandemic, the food crisis presents a new and ominous threat to the survival of the most vulnerable - the children and women," said Urban Jonsson, UNICEF's Regional Director for Eastern and Southern Africa. "A rapid assessment of nutritional status undertaken by UNICEF in Malawi last month shows that some 45, 000 children are facing severe malnutrition, with the situation likely to worsen in the 2002-2003 lean season".
Reviews of under-five and antenatal clinic records are showing that moderate malnutrition levels are also rising and the trend is likely to continue and probably get worse due to poor maize harvest caused by drought and floods.
The Malawi assessment shows that the number of children presenting with moderate malnutrition at under-five clinics in the last six months has trebled. The trend is the same with pregnant and lactating women. Even more alarming, the assessment shows that some of the moderately malnourished children are deteriorating to severe malnutrition.
Six countries in the sub-region, Malawi, Zimbabwe, Zambia, Mozambique, Lesotho and Swaziland, have all reported significant food deficits.
UNICEF has provided supplementary and therapeutic feeding to children and fortified maize meal to pregnant and breastfeeding women at various feeding centres in Malawi, Zimbabwe and Zambia. UNICEF is also working with governments in the region to conduct mop-up measles vaccination campaigns to prevent potential outbreaks, as well as providing water and sanitation supplies to counter a cholera outbreak that has so far claimed over 600 lives.
UNICEF is working with its partners to ensure that children, especially girls, can continue attending school while efforts are on-going to assess the extent of disruption to their lives in order to implement special protection measures.
For more information, contact:
Victor Chinyama, Communication Officer, Nairobi (254-2-622 218)
Adebayo Fayoyin, Communication Officer, Malawi (265-770 788)
Beatrice Karanja, Assistant Communication Officer, Nairobi (254-2-622 770)