Hunger to kill 128K more children over pandemic’s first year

Hunger to kill 128K more children over pandemic’s first year

HOUNDE, Burkina Faso — Coronavirus and its restrictions are pushing already hungry communities over the edge, killing an estimated 10,000 more young children a month as meagre farms are cut off from markets and villages are isolated from food and medical aid, the United Nations warned Monday.

In the call to action shared with The Associated Press ahead of publication, four U.N. agencies warned that growing malnutrition would have long-term consequences, transforming individual tragedies into a generational catastrophe.

Hunger is already stalking Haboue Solange Boue, an infant from Burkina Faso who lost half her former body weight of 5.5 pounds (2.5 kilograms) in just a month. Coronavirus restrictions closed the markets, and her family sold fewer vegetables. Her mother was too malnourished to nurse.

“My child,” Danssanin Lanizou whispered, choking back tears as she unwrapped a blanket to reveal her baby’s protruding ribs.

More than 550,000 additional children each month are being struck by what is called wasting, according to the U.N. — malnutrition that manifests in spindly limbs and distended bellies. Over a year, that’s up 6.7 million from last year’s total of 47 million. Wasting and stunting can permanently damage children physically and mentally.

“The food security effects of the COVID crisis are going to reflect many years from now,” said Dr. Francesco Branca, the WHO head of nutrition. “There is going to be a societal effect.”

_____

This story was produced with the support of the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting.

____

From Latin America to South Asia to sub-Saharan Africa, more poor families than ever are staring down a future without enough food. In April, World Food Program head David Beasley warned that the coronavirus economy would cause global famines “of biblical proportions” this year. There are different stages of what is known as food insecurity; famine is officially declared when, along with other measures, 30% of the population suffers from wasting.

The World Food Program estimated in February that one Venezuelan in three was already going hungry, as inflation rendered salaries nearly worthless and forced millions to flee abroad. Then the virus arrived.

“Every day we receive a malnourished child,” said Dr. Francisco Nieto, who works in a hospital in the border state of Tachira.

In May, Nieto recalled, after two months of quarantine, 18-month-old twins arrived with bodies bloated from malnutrition. The children’s mother was jobless and living with her own mother. She told the doctor she fed them only a simple drink made with boiled bananas.

“Not even a cracker? Some chicken?” he asked.

“Nothing,” the children’s grandmother responded. By the time the doctor saw them, it was too late: One boy died eight days later.

The leaders of four international agencies —the World Health Organization, UNICEF, the World Food Program and the Food and Agriculture Organization — have called for at least $2.4 billion immediately to address global hunger. But even more than lack of money, restrictions on movement have prevented families from seeking treatment, said Victor Aguayo, the head of UNICEF’s nutrition program.

“By having schools closed, by having primary health care services disrupted, by having nutritional programs dysfunctional, we are also creating harm,” Aguayo said. He cited as an example the near-global suspension of Vitamin A supplements, which are a crucial way to bolster developing immune systems.

In Afghanistan, movement restrictions prevent families from bringing their malnourished children to hospitals for food and aid just when they need it most. The Indira Gandhi hospital in the capital, Kabul, has seen only three or four malnourished children, said specialist Nematullah Amiri. Last year, there were 10 times as many.

Because the children don’t come in, there’s no way to know for certain the scale of the problem, but a recent study by Johns Hopkins University indicated an additional 13,000 Afghans younger than 5 could die.

Afghanistan is now in a red zone of hunger, with severe childhood malnutrition spiking from 690,000 in January to 780,000 — a 13% increase, according to UNICEF.

In Yemen, restrictions on movement have blocked aid distribution, along with the stalling of salaries and price hikes. The Arab world’s poorest country is suffering further from a fall in remittances and a drop in funding from humanitarian agencies.

Yemen is now on the brink of famine, according to the Famine Early Warning Systems Network, which uses surveys, satellite data and weather mapping to pinpoint places most in need.

Some of the worst hunger still occurs in sub-Saharan Africa. In Sudan, 9.6 million people live from one meal to the next — a 65% increase from the same time last year.

Lockdowns across Sudanese provinces, as around the world, have dried up work and incomes for millions. With inflation hitting 136%, prices for basic goods have more than tripled.

“It has never been easy but now we are starving, eating grass, weeds, just plants from the earth,” said Ibrahim Youssef, director of the Kalma camp for internally displaced people in war-ravaged south Darfur.

Adam Haroun, an official in the Krinding camp in west Darfur, recorded nine deaths linked with malnutrition, otherwise a rare occurrence, over the past two months — five newborns and four older adults, he said.

Before the pandemic and lockdown, the Abdullah family ate three meals a day, sometimes with bread, or they’d add butter to porridge. Now they are down to just one meal of “millet porridge” — water mixed with grain. Zakaria Yehia Abdullah, a farmer now at Krinding, said the hunger is showing “in my children’s faces.”

“I don’t have the basics I need to survive,” said the 67-year-old, who who hasn’t worked the fields since April. “That means the 10 people counting on me can’t survive either.”

____

Hinnant reported from Paris. Contributors include Christine Armario in Bogota, Colombia; Fazel Rahman in Kabul, Afghanistan; Issa Mohammed in Al-Hanabiya, Yemen; and Isabel DeBre in Cairo.

Lori Hinnant And Sam Mednick, The Associated Press

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

robbery
UPDATE: Suspect identified in early morning shooting

Rimbey RCMP had responded to a complaint of an armed robbery at the Bluffton City General Store

Health Minister Tyler Shandro and Dr. Deena Hinshaw, the chief medical officer of health, receive flu shot. Photo via Government of Alberta
COVID-19: One more death in central zone

Ponoka County on province’s watchlist

Many rural municipalities were concerned about a proposed reduction to their industrial revenues, but Alberta’s Municipal Affairs minister has come up with an alternative solution. (Photo contributed)
Province and rural municipalities agree on a plan to support Alberta’s energy industry

Creating new wells or pipelines would result in a three year ‘tax holiday’

The influenza vaccine will be available at no cost starting Monday in Alberta. “The more that we can avoid influenza-related tests, emergency visits and hospitalizations, the stronger our system will be to support those with COVID-19 and all other health needs," says Dr. Deena Hinshaw, the province's chief medical officer of health. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)
Hinshaw urges Albertans to get flu shot as COVID cases jump by 332

Alberta’s central zone now has 132 active COVID-19 cases

The Bellows family on vacation last year in Mexico. L-R: Angel, Ryan, Darrel, Grace and Michael. (Photo submitted)
Rimbey community rallying behind family after cancer diagnosis

Michael Bellows, 12, a ‘strong, resilient kid’ says father

Conservative member of Parliament Pierre Poilievre speaks during a press conference on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on October 19, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Liberals say Tory effort to set up COVID-19 committee will be a confidence matter

The Tories were originally proposing an ‘anticorruption’ committee

Alberta Premier Jason Kenny and government house leader Jason Nixon chat before the speech from the throne delivered in Edmonton, Alta., on Tuesday, May 21, 2019. Alberta politicians are to return to the legislature Tuesday with a plan to discuss up to 20 new bills — many of which are focused on the province’s economic recovery. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson
Alberta legislature to resume Tuesday; focus to be on economic recovery

Opposition house leader Heather Sweet said the NDP will focus on holding Premier Jason Kenney

A passer-by walks past a COVID-19 testing clinic in Montreal, Friday, Oct. 16, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz
Canada ‘yet to see’ deaths due to recent COVID surge as cases hit 200,000

Much of the increase in case numbers can be attributed to Ontario and Quebec

Executive Director of Agape Kate Halas (left) receives $1000 from Sgt. Eric Christensen (right) on behalf of Agape. Photo/ Shaela Dansereau.
Former Wetaskiwin Peace Officer wins provincial award; gives back to Wetaskiwin community

Eric Christensen has won the Alberta Association of Community Peace Officers Award of Excellence.

Agriculture Minister Devin Dreeshen (Alberta government photo)
Big boost for Alberta college agriculture research

The $2-million agreement to benefit Lethbridge College’s applied research team

Grant and Barbara Howse, in quarantine in Invermere. Mike Turner photo
Denied entry into U.S., Canadian couple still forced to quarantine for 2 weeks

The rules around crossing the U.S. border led to a bizarre situation for an Invermere couple

Employee Sophia Lovink shows off a bag of merchandise in Toronto on Thursday, June 11, 2020. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette)
Canada gets C-average grade on 2nd year of cannabis legalization

Cannabis Council of Canada releases report card on federal government and legalization

Canadian and American flags fly near the Ambassador Bridge at the Canada-USA border crossing in Windsor, Ont. on Saturday, March 21, 2020. Restrictions on non-essential travel between Canada and the United States are being extended until at least Nov. 21. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Rob Gurdebeke
Non-essential travel restrictions at Canada-U.S. border extended to at least Nov. 21

The restrictions do not apply to those providing essential services in either country

(The Canadian Perss)
Banff wolves have lower survival rate due to hunting, trapping outside park boundary

Researchers looked at 72 radio-collared wolves in the national park from 1987 to August 2019

Most Read