Rising food prices: Millions of children in the Middle East and North Africa are at increased risk of malnutrition

Amman, April 7, 2022 – Six weeks into the war in Ukraine, the fragile nutritional status of children in the Middle East and North Africa will continue to deteriorate.

As Muslims in the region begin the holy month of Ramadan, import disruptions caused by the conflict are causing food shortages and high prices for essential commodities such as wheat, cooking oils and fuel. If this situation continues, it will have a serious impact on children, especially in Egypt, Lebanon, Libya, Sudan, Syria and Yemen. ; According to the latest assessments, some of these countries are at risk[1] made before the Ukraine crisis because these countries were already struggling with conflicts, economic crises or a sharp rise in world food prices in 2021.

« Amid 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 rise dramatically », called Adele Khodr, UNICEF Regional Director for the Middle East and North Africa.

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

Urgently increase prevention

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

  • Alone 36 % small children[2] in the region receive the nutrition they need for healthy growth and development ;
  • The region suffers from high malnutrition and micronutrient deficiencies. On average, almost every fifth child suffers from growth retardation while the average wasting rate is high 7 %.

Rates of malnutrition are higher in the MENA countries hardest hit by the war in Ukraine.

  • in yemen, 45 % of children are underdeveloped and more than 86% are anemic ;
  • in sudan, 13.6 % of children are wasted, 36.4 % are stunted and almost half are anemic ;
  • in lebanon, 94 % of young children are not getting the nutrition they need while they are over 40 years old % of women and children under the age of five are anemic ;
  • In Syria, Only one in four toddlers gets the nutrition they need to grow up healthy. In 2021 alone, the price of the average grocery basket has almost doubled.

Coordinate nutritional response

« UNICEF continues to coordinate food assistance in the region. We call for the consolidation of 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 countries hardest hit by the crisis. This is essential to prevent a massive child malnutrition crisis in the region. », added Adele Khodr.

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

« We stand ready to facilitate the reorganization of food assistance in the region to strengthen links with the agriculture, social protection, education, water and sanitation sectors to reach more children in need », Conclude Adele Khodr.

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Notes for editors :
– In Syria, Lebanon, Sudan and Yemen, about 9.1 million children less than five years old and overall almost 13.8 million children and women need nutritional support.

– In the past year alone, UNICEF has been able to do this :

  • Give almost 3.5 Millions of children under the age of five from micronutrient supplements ;
  • Screening of over 11 million children for malnutrition ;
  • UNICEF’s MENA Regional Office has redesigned a key malnutrition screening tool : the ligament of the mean upper arm circumference (MUAC). To improve hygiene, the bands are disposable and made entirely of ecological and biodegradable paper. Easy-to-understand instructions in Arabic and English are printed on the back of the straps using non-toxic ink ;
  • Providing treatment services to nearly 650 000 Children with severe wasting/severe acute malnutrition ;
  • Advise more than 6 Millions of women and caregivers in feeding infants and young children.

– According to the WFP the prices Cooking Oil increased by 36 % in Yemen and 39 % in Syria. Wheat flour prices rose 47 % in Lebanon, from 15 % in Libya and 14 % in the State of Palestine.

growth retardation means a child who is too small for his age. Underdeveloped children can suffer severe, irreversible physical and cognitive damage. 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 weight loss or an inability to gain weight. 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.

– Diet variety refers to the consumption of different food groups during the day. Minimal dietary variety requires that young children be fed at least five of these eight food groups. The eight food groups are : (1) breast milk (2) Cereals, roots and tubers ; (3) legumes, nuts and seeds ; (4) dairy products (milk, yogurt, cheese); (5) Meat products (meat, fish, poultry and liver or offal) ; (6) eggs; (7) Fruits and vegetables rich in vitamin A (carrots, mangoes, dark green leafy vegetables, pumpkins, orange sweet potato) ; and (8) other fruits and vegetables.

UNICEF’s response includes :
– Child nutrition packs included :

  • Adequate breastfeeding : early initiation within an hour of birth; exclusive breastfeeding for the first five months; and keep breastfeeding 6 to 23 Month.
  • Varied and age-appropriate complementary foods with nutritional supplements—including fat-based supplements—for malnourished children in food-insecure areas.
  • Vitamin A supplementation, deworming prophylaxis and home fortification with micronutrient supplements when dietary variety is limited and micronutrient deficiencies and anemia are prevalent.
  • Early detection and treatment of childhood wasting, with a focus on young children and community-based approaches.

– Female nutrition packs included :

  • Maternal nutrition counseling and healthy weight gain monitoring with balanced protein-energy supplementation for malnourished women.
  • Multiple micronutrient supplements, deworming prophylaxis and malaria control to prevent micronutrient deficiencies and anemia.

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