Afghanistan’s Silent Killer: Child Malnutrition

A recent UNICEF report has highlighted the damaging effects of malnutrition on children. Ongoing violence, a brutal drought and rampant poverty have left two million children suffering from malnutrition, 600,000 of which likely face death without external support. “We are the sole provider of treatment for severe acute malnutrition,” said UN Children’s Fun spokesperson Christophe Boulierac. He stressed that “a child that suffers from acute severe malnutrition is a child that needs urgent treatment, otherwise he might die.” $7 million in funding is needed to curb the crisis; however, ongoing funding shortages have resulted in fewer people getting the much-needed support.

Four silent crises are happening without anyone knowing, writes UNICEF; hunger crises affect Yemen, Somalia, Afghanistan and Liberia, yet news outlets have given them little to no attention. Afghanistan’s decade-long drought has brought food insecurity, with many families living on less than a meal a day. “We eat a loaf of bread with a cup of boiled water at dinner,” said Wahida to a UNICEF correspondent, her children showing symptoms of extreme malnutrition stunting development. Existing funding shortages have resulted in only 60 per cent of children receiving aid. 1300 facilities throughout the country face shortages, with weeks left to raise funding.

Boulierac warned that the situation is likely to worsen, and he requested a secure pipeline of funding. In some provinces, malnutrition is the cause of half the mortality rate of children under 5, and low birth weights in newborns have resulted in 80% neonatal deaths. Action Against Hunger (ACF) has worked towards raising living standards since 1995, with the prevalence of stunting being reduced from 60% in 1995 to 41% in 2017. The ongoing conflict has devastated the health system, preventable diseases are widespread, and 10 million people currently have limited to no access to healthcare. Widespread poverty, inaccessible terrain and harsh weather conditions prevent health facilities from maintaining a permanent regional presence.

The ongoing peace process between the Taliban and the US is shaky at best. Afghani people fear America’s rushed peace process, which threatens to jeopardize the situation. Peace is demanded by all levels of society, yet military withdrawal will not ensure stability nor uphold living standards. The World Bank reports that Afghanistan’s poverty rate has skyrocketed this past decade, jumping from 33.7% to 54.5% from 2007 to 2016. Bouilerac left a final warning that without funding, it is expected that outbreaks, famine and child stunting will increase:  “We cannot tell you how many children will die; but we can tell you that child with severe acute malnutrition is 11 times more likely to die than their healthy peers.” International attention is necessary and vital for ensuring Afghanistan’s future.

Jonno McPike