The African continent, with all its beauty and richness in natural resources, is facing a severe food crisis. Home to over 1.2 billion people, the continent hosts more than 50 nations where many children are starving. The main cause of this is poverty – an outcome of continuous conflicts which have led to economic instability, lack of access to drinkable water and sanitation, and severe hunger levels.
In fact, poverty is the reality for about half of the people in Africa. Without their most basic needs being met, many of the 600 million African children are unable to envisage a way out of this and the process continues to repeat itself.
Children hunger facts
Poor nutrition among children is widespread in numerous nations including Ethiopia, South Sudan, Somalia, Kenya, Burundi, Niger, and Zambia.
Moreover, infectious diseases such as Ebola, Zika, and Chikungunya have exacerbated the hunger situation.
According to the Overseas Development Institute and Save the Children UK, African children are falling deeper into absolute poverty and will account for more than 50% of the world’s impoverished by 2030.
UNICEF states that poor nutrition is so prevalent on the continent that 59 million starving children are stunted. In 2017, around 14 million African children, roughly 7.1%, were afflicted by wasting.
Wasting is the most prevalent, acute, and potentially fatal manifestation of malnutrition. Children suffering from wasting are underweight and have weakened immune systems which exposes them to the risk of developmental delays, sickness, and mortality.
Children hunger statistics
- Children make up half of Africa’s population with up to 20% of them being disabled. Due to malnutrition, a rising number of children are growing up stunted
- The situation is worsened by diseases such as HIV/AIDS which leaves children as orphans and places them in charge of their households at a very young age
- Malaria is responsible for 3,000 daily deaths among African children
- Today, Africa is home to 32.1 million orphans
- Since the African population is expected to increase by over 100% by 2050, even more children are expected to face hunger
- According to UNICEF, from 2000 to 2018 the number of malnourished children under the age of five in West and Central Africa grew from 22.4 million to 28.9 million
- Every second child who dies in Africa dies because of hunger. Hunger is responsible for 45% of all childhood mortality in Africa
Starving children in Africa
Based on UNICEF data, nearly 90% of children do not meet the criterion for a minimum appropriate diet and over half of African children do not eat at the recommended frequency.
Nutritional deficiencies are responsible for about 30% of all child mortalities in Africa. In some nations, undernutrition is twice as common in children from rural areas as it is for those living in an urban environment.
In many regions that suffer from continuous wars, it is simply impossible to gain access to food markets. Moreover, there are places where starvation is still employed as a tool of war by opposing forces.
Experts worry that the conflict in Ukraine may worsen hunger and food insecurity for some Africans since Ukraine and Russia are the major exporters of wheat and vegetable oil to African countries.
Fig.1. Ukraine – Russia exports to Africa
Source: Deutsche Welle
According to the U.N.’s International Fund for Agricultural Development, the conflict currently taking place in Ukraine is expected to increase the problem of hunger and poverty in Africa.
In sub-Saharan Africa, with a population of 1.1 billion, one in every four individuals face hunger. Before COVID-19 hit the planet in 2020, over 26 million children living in East and Southern Africa were stunted. In addition, 2.6 million children were suffering from severe acute malnutrition – the most lethal form of malnutrition.
Due to slow economic growth in some nations and economic collapse in others combined with the level of poverty and the continuously increasing population in Africa, it has been forecast that by 2030 the number of African children who could suffer from poverty (and hunger) will reach 305 million.
Climate change-related droughts in Ethiopia, Eritrea, Somalia, and Djibouti, conflicts, and the COVID-19 crisis have led to the destruction of cattle and crops which in turn has taken its toll on food production and ultimately led to people (especially children) facing hunger.
About 14 million people – approximately half of whom are children – are facing severe hunger in Ethiopia, Kenya, and Somalia alone.
If the lack of rain continues this season, up to 28 million people among the entire East African population of over 465 million could risk severe starvation. With the attention focused on the emerging crisis in Ukraine, there is a serious risk that the global community may fail to react appropriately to the increasing problem of hunger in the region until it is too late.
Hunger has instant and long-term negative impacts on children’s physical, psychological and intellectual growth as well as a nation’s economic success. Children who are hungry or stunted perform worse in school and have low self-esteem. The international community is being called upon to pay more attention to this issue before the crisis leads to many deaths among African children due to starvation.