UN warns: El Niño could cause severe malnutrition

School dropouts, chronic malnutrition, stunting and diarrhea are some of the effects El Niño will apparently have on children.

A file picture showing a 13-year-old Prince Mpofu packing last years harvest from the irrigated gardens for storage in the village of Nsezi in Matabeleland, southwestern Zimbabwe. Picture: AFP.

JOHANNESBURG – The United Nations has warned that if it doesn’t receive the required funding to address the El Niño phenomenon effect, malnutrition will be among the gravest dangers particularly affecting children in the Southern African Development Community (SADC) region.

The Regional International Agency standing committee says the two-year drought has resulted in depleted food stocks, largely due to poor or failed harvests across the SADC region.

The committee reported on the progress made and the plan of action going forward in Sandton on Tuesday.

El Niño Coordinator for Southern Africa Timo Pakkala says after the committee’s international appeal for funding in June, they have received only half of the amount needed to provide humanitarian assistance where it’s needed most

He says children in Malawi, Madagascar, Mozambique and Zimbabwe are the hardest hit by the effects and risk bearing the physical consequences on a long term period.

“So we’ll be seeing quite a lot of the negative impact, and we’ll see a malnutrition rate not being addressed in Southern Africa and that may be one of the most serious because we do not have the resources to support the children.”

Pakkala says in most of the affected countries, the drought compounds existing challenges like fragile political situations, sensitive economies and peaking food prices.

At the same time, school dropouts, chronic malnutrition, stunting and diarrhea are just some of the effects that Unicef sub-regional coordinator Karen Allen says El Niño will have on children.

Allen says although countries in the SADC region have just entered the peak period with regard to the effects of the droughts, children have started showing signs of the impact of the drought.

“We’re seeing presentations of acute malnutrition from six months on to five years. We’re also seeing three kinds of malnutrition and then the long-term stunting which has, unfortunately, lifelong effects and it’s not medically treatable.”

She says South Africa is the least affected country among the 15, however it has been placed on the watch list.

(Edited by Leeto M Khoza)