Malnutrition the scourge of world’s children
By Julie Fortier
Seven and a half million children under the age of five die every year of preventable causes. In the case of 2.5 million of them, malnutrition is the underlying cause.
These are the alarming facts that David Morley, President and CEO of UNICEF Canada, presented as he opened the 4th McGill Conference on Global Food Security, on Oct. 4 at Moyse Hall.
“Children are simply too weak when they are malnourished to be able to fight off disease,” he said, as he held up a bracelet used by aid organizations to measure a child’s nutrition level. The Middle Upper Arm Circumference (MUAC) colour bracelet is wrapped around the child’s bicep and in the case of severe malnutrition (level red), the circle is the size of a toonie.
Chronic nutritional deficiency during the first thousand days of a child’s life stunts his or her physical and cognitive development, which eventually has a dramatic impact on productivity and earning potential as an adult.
“And the worst place in the world for a child to be today is in the Horn of Africa,” added Morley, who was headed a few days later to the refugee camp of Dadaab, in Kenya, where a thousand people fleeing Somalia are arriving every day. Six areas of southern Somalia have been declared famine zones by the United Nations, the result of drought, poor crop production, loss of livestock and armed conflict. In that area, 1.5 million children need immediate humanitarian assistance and 350,000 under the age of five are acutely malnourished, added Morley.
UNICEF is responding by providing ready-to-use therapeutic food, distributing water, addressing sanitation challenges and stepping up their vaccination program.
“With the help of 70 local partners, our staff has established 800 nutrition centres and programs that are reaching 17,000 severely malnourished children a month. We are providing more than 12,000 hot meals to families in feeding centres near the borders with Kenya and Ethiopia.”
UNICEF is also using cash grants and food vouchers to inject money in the local economy, reaching some 15,000 families this way. Morley underlined how political stability can help ensure aid reaches the people who need it.
“There are parts of Ethiopia and Kenya where there has also been severe drought but in many parts of those countries, we have been able to work with communities over the last two decades to build clinics and put in place mobile schools for pastoralist families, for example. Community infrastructure has been able to help develop some resilience in those places where the political situation allowed it.”