Nutrition crisis deepening across Kenya - UNICEF

Parts of Northern Kenya have recorded malnutritoin rates of more than double the emergency threshold

15 September 2017
A child consuming ready to use therapeutic food
UNICEF Kenya/2017/Oloo
A severely malnourished child consumes Ready to Use Therapeutic Food (RUTF) at an integrated health and nutrition outreach site in Kibish, Northern Turkana, Kenya

GENEVA, NAIROBI, 15 September 2017 – The failure of the March-June long rains – the third consecutive poor rains since early 2016 – has helped push an additional 37,000 children across the country below the threshold of acute malnutrition.

Almost 370,000 children across the country now require treatment for acute malnutrition, including 72,600 who are suffering from the most severe form, which requires specialized, life-saving care. In February, there were an estimated 343,000 acutely malnourished children.

“We have reached 60 per cent more children with life-saving assistance in the first half of 2017 compared to 2016, yet more and more children are becoming malnourished,” said Werner Schultink, UNICEF’s Representative in Kenya. “We need to make nutritious food, safe water and basic health care far more accessible to vulnerable children and families so that malnourished children can recover, and so that those at risk do not fall sick.” 

In four out of 17 surveys conducted in June and July, acute malnutrition rates were at least double the emergency threshold of 15 per cent. Turkana South recorded the highest rate – 37 per cent – close to the 37.4 per cent peak recorded during the Horn of Africa crisis in 2011. Turkana Central, Turkana North and North Horr in Marsabit County registered acute malnutrition rates between 30 and 37 per cent. Nine additional counties recorded rates above 15 per cent. 

This crisis underlines the chronic impact of these drought conditions. According to 2014-2016 data released in a new UN report, The State of Food Security and Nutrition, being launched today in Rome, undernourishment in Kenya affected 19.1% or 8.8 million people. The report notes that climate-related issues have increased food insecurity in regions affected by drought, also contributing to an increase in undernourishment.

Turkana and Marsabit counties, located in the country’s north, are home to pastoralists who have been hardest hit by the drought, which is the worst since the 2011 Horn of Africa crisis. Over half a million people there are now in need of food assistance, including 103,000 children, or almost two out of every three children.

The failure of the March-June long rains, following two extremely poor rains in 2016, have led to widespread crop failure, acute water shortages, and declining animal productivity – including the lowest production of milk in years, which pastoral children rely on for protein. Poor feeding practices, disease outbreaks and limited access to health services are being exacerbated by a nationwide nurses’ strike, now in its third month.

The lack of food and water in schools and drought-related migration are also pulling children out of classrooms. Several schools have closed while others are overcrowded because of migrating children or children who come in search of school-feeding. There is anecdotal evidence of increasing early marriage and child labor. An estimated 1 million children are in need of support to keep learning.  Across the country, 1.6 million children are now food insecure, up from 1.2 million in February and 600,000 in August 2016.

As Nutrition sector lead, UNICEF is supporting the Government in the overall coordination of the drought response by providing lifesaving commodities, monitoring and response, including the treatment of more than 46,000 children for severe acute malnutrition. UNICEF is also repairing strategic water points in a country where almost 9 million children lack access to safe water.  UNICEF is appealing for $24.7 million to fund its drought response.

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