As the war in Ukraine rages on, millions of children in the Middle East and North Africa are at increased risk of malnutrition amid rising food prices – Advice Eating

AMMAN, April 7, 2022- Six weeks into the war in Ukraine, the fragile nutritional status of children in the Middle East and North Africa is expected to worsen.

As Muslims in the region celebrate the holy month of Ramadan, the disruption in imports caused by the conflict is causing food shortages amid high prices for essential commodities including wheat, cooking oils and fuel. If this continues, children will be hit hard, especially in Egypt, Lebanon, Libya, Sudan, Syria and Yemen; According to the latest estimates, some are hunger hotspots[1] undertaken before the Ukraine crisis, as these countries were already struggling with conflicts, economic crises or a sharp rise in global food prices in 2021.

“In the face of ongoing conflicts, political instability, the COVID-19 pandemic and the war in Ukraine, the region is witnessing unprecedented increases in food prices coupled with low purchasing power. The number of malnourished children is likely to increase dramatically,” said Adele Khodr, UNICEF regional director for the Middle East and North Africa.

The impact of the ongoing war in Ukraine amplifies the impact of two long years of the COVID-19 pandemic on the economy, jobs and poverty in the MENA region, where more than 90 percent of food is imported.

Many countries are already struggling with child malnutrition, particularly due to ongoing armed conflicts and humanitarian crises.

  • Just 36 percent from small children[2] in the region receive the nutrition they need for healthy growth and development;
  • The region is characterized by high rates of malnutrition and micronutrient deficiencies. On average almost one in five Children are stunted while the average rate of wasting is 7 percent.

Malnutrition rates are higher in the MENA countries hardest hit by the war in Ukraine.

  • In Yemen45 percent of children are underdeveloped and over 86 percent have anemia;
  • In Sudan13.6 percent of the children suffer from wasting, 36.4 percent are stunted and almost half have anemia;
  • In Lebanon94 percent of young children are not receiving the nutrition they need, while more than 40 percent of women and children under the age of five have anemia;
  • In Syria, only one in four young children gets the nutrition they need to grow up healthy. The price of the average grocery basket has almost doubled in 2021 alone.

“UNICEF continues to coordinate nutritional efforts in the region. We call for consolidating efforts to urgently provide and scale up prevention, early detection and treatment of malnutrition to meet the needs of millions of children and women, particularly in the countries most affected by the crisis. This is crucial to prevent a massive child malnutrition crisis in the region,” added Khodr.

UNICEF works with partners to provide and scale up life-saving treatment services for children with severe wasting in conjunction with early detection in children under the age of five. At the same time, UNICEF and partners offer preventative nutrition services, including micronutrient supplements, growth monitoring and counseling, and support with breastfeeding and age-appropriate complementary feeding.

“We stand ready to facilitate the region’s nutritional transformation to further strengthen links with the agriculture, social protection, education and water and sanitation sectors to reach more children in need,” concluded Khodr.

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Notes for editors:

  • In Syria, Lebanon, Sudan and Yemen over 9.1 million children under five years and overall nearly 13.8 million children and women need nutritional support.
  • In the past year alone, UNICEF has been able to do this:
    • Providing micronutrient supplements to nearly 3.5 million children under the age of five;
    • Screen over 11 million children for wasting;
    • The UNICEF Regional Office MENA has redesigned a key tool for screening for malnutrition: the Upper Arm Circumference Band (MUAC). To improve hygiene, the tapes are disposable and made entirely of eco-friendly, biodegradable paper, with easy-to-understand instructions in Arabic and English printed on the back of the tapes with non-toxic ink;
    • Provided treatment services to nearly 650,000 children with severe wasting/severe acute malnutrition;
    • Advising over 6 million women and caregivers on infant and young child nutrition.
  • According to WFP the prices of cooking oil are up 36 percent in Yemen and 39 percent in Syria. Wheat flour prices are up 47 percent in Lebanon, 15 percent in Libya and 14 percent in the state of Palestine.
  • brakes refers to a child who is too small for his age. Underdeveloped children can suffer severe irreversible physical and cognitive damage associated with underdeveloped growth. The devastating effects of stunting can last a lifetime and even affect the next generation.
  • waste refers to a child who is too thin for their height. Wasting is the result of rapid recent weight loss or a lack of weight gain. A child suffering from moderate or severe wasting is at increased risk of death, but treatment is available.
  • malnutrition refers to both stunting and wasting.
  • dietary diversity refers to the consumption of different food groups during the day. A minimal dietary variety requires that young children be fed at least five of these eight food groups. That eight food groups are: (1) mother’s milk (2) grains, roots and tubers; (3) legumes, nuts and seeds; (4) dairy products (milk, yogurt, cheese); (5) meaty foods (meat, fish, poultry, and liver or organ meats); (6) eggs; (7) Vitamin A-rich fruits and vegetables (carrots, mangoes, dark green leafy vegetables, pumpkins, orange sweet potato); and (8) other fruits and vegetables
  • UNICEF’s response includes:
    • The nutritional packages for children include:
      • Adequate breastfeeding: early initiation within 1 hour of birth; exclusive breastfeeding for the first five months; and continued breastfeeding from 6 to 23 months.
      • Age-appropriate, varied complementary foods—including fat-based supplements—for malnourished children in food-insecure areas.
      • Vitamin A supplements, deworming prophylaxis, and home fortification with micronutrient supplements when diet variety is limited and micronutrient deficiencies and anemia are common.
      • Early detection and treatment of child wasting with a focus on young children and community-based approaches.
    • The nutrition packages for women include:
      • Maternal nutrition counseling and healthy weight gain monitoring with balanced protein-energy supplements for malnourished women.
      • Multiple micronutrient supplements, deworming prophylaxis and malaria control to prevent micronutrient deficiencies and anemia.

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