A "perfect storm of poverty, deprivation, and conflict" has pushed hundreds of thousands of children in the Democratic Republic of the Congo to the brink of starvation, according to the UN children’s agency, UNICEF. 

The agency warned on Friday that some 770,000 children in the central African country are malnourished — with 400,000 at risk of death. That figure represents 10% of children under the age of 5.

The crisis is centred in the five provinces of the Kasai region, which are among the poorest in the country. "Horrific violence" initially broke out in the area in August 2016, according to the UN, and since then more than 1 million people in Kasai have been displaced from their homes. 

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Many of these people have been left with no access to health care, food, or safe water. Despite a lull in the fighting since the second half of 2017, the agency added in a report, "waves of displacement continue because of persistent insecurity and fears of resurgent violence." 

"Severe food insecurity is now affecting large parts of the region," reads the report "Kasai: A Children’s Crisis." "This is mainly the result of hundreds of thousands of displaced people returning to their villages, emerging severely malnourished from their hiding places and not finding much to sustain them at home — because the planting seasons in 2017 were lost."

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According to the UN, around 3.8 million people need humanitarian assistance across the Kasai region — 2.3 million of whom are children. 

"What is happening in Kasai is truly a children’s crisis," the report adds.

In Kasai, 1 in every 10 children dies before they reach 5 years old. Meanwhile, half of the region’s children suffer from chronic malnutrition, which in turn causes stunting and prevents the children from growing and developing properly. 

"Conflict and displacement continue to have devastating consequences for the children of Kasai," Fatoumata Ndiaye, the deputy executive director of UNICEF, told the Guardian

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“Thousands of displaced children have spent months without access to the services they need — like health care, safe drinking water, and education — and their well-being has suffered tremendously,” she added. 

Ndiaye said now that access to the region is improving, the government and humanitarian partners, with support from the international community, must "ramp up life-saving interventions for children before it’s too late."

The UN is now appealing for $88 million in funding to support children in the region, with more than half of this funding earmarked to be spent on child nutrition. Some $17.2 million would be spent on "rapid response to movement of population," while $9.2 million would go toward water, sanitation, and hygiene. Other areas of support include child protection, education, and health. 

Global Citizen campaigns to achieve the UN’s Global Goals to end extreme poverty by 2030. These goals include action on achieving zero hunger, global health, and universal basic education. You can join us by taking action on these issues here


Defeat Poverty

400,000 Children Are Close to Dying of Hunger in the Congo, UNICEF Says

By Imogen Calderwood