A new report by the Integrated food security Phase Classification (IPC) working group of Nigeria has revealed that more than 1 million children in North East Nigeria are seriously malnourished — with over 600,000 of those children falling on the acute end of the spectrum.
“Around 1.15 million children aged 6-59 months are expected to suffer from acute malnutrition during the course of 2021, with more than half of them (605,000) expected to be severely malnourished,” the report said.
While it might be one of the worst affected parts of the world due to the COVID-19 pandemic and challenges with insecurity, the food crisis in North East Nigeria mostly mirrors what is going on in other parts of Africa and the world.
Middle-income countries like India, South Africa, and Brazil are experiencing rapidly rising levels of hunger. More than 55 million people in seven of the worst-affected countries are facing severe-to-extreme levels of food insecurity, according to Oxfam.
In countries like Yemen, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Nigeria, South Sudan, and Burkina Faso, where there were already violent conflicts, the COVID-19 outbreak has compounded existing problems and forced people to the brink of starvation.
A recent report from the Kenya Food Security Steering Group found that at least 1.4 million people in the country are facing acute hunger with an increasing number of reports of desert locust invasions, land desertification, and droughts in East Africa, which has led to more people relying on food aid.
The situation in North East Nigeria exists partly because people in affected areas have “very poor food consumption patterns (both quantity and nutritional quality) and high morbidity rates (diarrhoea and fever),” the IPC report said.
However, it said the biggest challenge is “the expected further deteriorating security situation leading to decreased food accessibility, possible outbreaks of acute watery diarrhoea, measles, and malaria.”
The report also estimates that there will be more than 1.1 million cases of acute malnutrition requiring urgent treatment in 2021.
In terms of severity compared to global rates of acute malnutrition, four zones are worst affected: Central Yobe, Northern Yobe, Northern Borno, and East Borno, with levels of malnutrition worsened by ongoing conflict in these regions, food insecurity, poor water and sanitation (WASH) conditions, high morbidity, and poor infant practices.
Other contributing factors, according to the report, included low measles vaccination coverage, poor vitamin A supplementation coverage, anaemia among children aged 6-59 months, and high prevalence of diarrhoea and fever.
To tackle these issues, the report suggests “increasing treatment of acute malnutrition for children in hard to reach areas and areas with low coverage, especially in Yobe and Adamawa states.”
It also recommends strengthening “the screening and referral pathways”, including promotion of early detection methods for acute malnutrition and “interventions that focus on exclusive breastfeeding, continued breastfeeding, and optimal complementary feeding practices using locally available nutritious foods.”
The insecurity challenges as well as the COVID-19 pandemic might make these recommendations hard to implement but it is important that authorities bring in policies “promoting income generating, home gardening, and household food security interventions that aim to reduce poverty at household level,” the report said.