The global food crisis and climate change are contributing to eight million children under 5 sinking into severe malnutrition in 15 countries, including Sudan and Yemen, it has been revealed.
One child every minute becomes at risk of death from malnutrition and lack of food, a statement from the UN children's body Unicef said on Wednesday.
Russia's invasion of Ukraine has sparked a global shortage of wheat. The two nations are two of the world’s largest exporters of the product — and Russia has created a blockade on Ukraine’s supply, leaving millions of tonnes sitting in silos.
“We are now seeing the tinderbox of conditions for extreme levels of child wasting begin to catch fire,” said Unicef executive director Catherine Russell. Severe wasting occurs when a child's weight becomes too low for their height.
The UN calls it “the most visible and lethal form of malnutrition” and says immediate action is needed, using therapeutic food — a combination of powdered milk, peanuts, butter, vegetable oil, sugar and vitamins that comes in 500-calorie sachets. But the group estimates that the cost of treating child wasting has already increased by about 16 per cent.
“Food aid is critical, but we cannot save starving children with bags of wheat," Ms Russell said. "We need to reach these children now with therapeutic treatment before it is too late.”
Climate change has also contributed to drought in some countries, depleting crop yield and forcing people into hunger and displacement.
Unicef said it was scaling up its response in the 15 most-affected countries: Afghanistan, Burkina Faso, Chad, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Ethiopia, Haiti, Kenya, Madagascar, Mali, Niger, Nigeria, Somalia, South Sudan, Sudan and Yemen.
Yemen is in the seventh year of war since Houthi militias took over the capital Sanaa, prompting the government to call on Saudi Arabia and neighbouring countries to intervene.
More than two million children are acutely malnourished in Yemen, which has one of the highest rates of child malnutrition in the world.
A recent Red Cross survey found almost one third of families have gaps in their diets and hardly ever consume foods such as pulses, vegetables, fruit, dairy products or meat.
Sudan, too, has been experiencing political turmoil, shortage of funds and an influx of refugees from Ethiopia, where rebels are fighting against the government. In Sudan, about 2.5 million children are said to be malnourished.
Before the G7 summit taking place in Madrid next week, Unicef called for $1.2 billion to combat hunger in these nations.