The United Nations says that a quarter of the world’s children under the age of 5 are severely undernourished. There are many of them in Africa

KALTUNGO, Nigeria (AP) – The 9-month-old twins cried non-stop and called their mother, seeking attention but also food. They had received very little in the past 24 hours, and the signs of hunger were deeper in the oversized heads of their tiny bodies.

“Not much milk comes out,” said her mother, Dorcas Simon, 38, who struggles to breastfeed and has three other children. She laughed, as if to hide the pain. “What shall I give them when I myself have no food?”

Here in northern Nigeria, where conflict and climate change have long contributed to the problem, her twins are among 181 million children under 5 – or 27% of the world’s youngest children – who live in large- food poverty, according to a new report Thursday by the UN children’s agency.

The report, which focused on nearly 100 low- and middle-income countries, defines severe food poverty as consuming nothing per day or, at best, two out of eight food groups recognized by the agency.

Africa’s population of more than 1.3 billion people is one of the most affected mainly by conflict, climate crises and rising food prices. The continent accounts for one third of the global burden and 13 of the 20 most affected countries.

But it has also recorded some progress, the report said.

The percentage of children living in extreme food poverty in West and Central Africa has fallen from 42% to 32% in the past decade, he said, noting progress including diversified crops and performance-based incentives d ‘health workers.

In the absence of vital nutrients, children with “extremely poor” diets are more likely to develop wasting, a life-threatening form of malnutrition, the agency called UNICEF said.

“When the wasting becomes very severe, they are 12 times more likely to die,” Harriet Torlesse, one of the authors of the report, told the Associated Press.

In some Nigerian communities like Kaltungo in the north-east where Simon lives, UNICEF is training thousands of women on how to increase their family’s nutritional intake with cassava, sweet potatoes, maize and millet grown in home gardens.

More than a dozen women gathered this week in the village of Poshereng Kaltungo to learn the many recipes they can prepare with those foods that, in the absence of rain, are grown in sandbags that do not require much water.

Mothers in Nigeria also face the worst cost of living crisis in the country. Growing food at home saves money.

Aisha Aliyu, a five-year-old mother of five, said her latest child used to be “chubby but is getting fatter” because of what they grow at home now. Hauwa Bwami, a five-year-old mother of five, lost her grandchild to kwashiorkor, a disease of acute protein malnutrition, before UNICEF training began a year ago. Now she grows enough food that she sells to other women.

Kaltungo is in a semi-arid agricultural region where rainfall has been limited by climate change in recent years. Some children have died of acute malnutrition in the past because food is scarce, said Ladi Abdullahi, who trains the women.

The training is “like answered prayers for me,” Simon said of his first time with the group.

But it can be a painful lesson. Another trainee, Florence Victor, 59, watched helplessly as her nine-month-old grandchild succumbed to malnutrition in 2022.

Malnutrition can also weaken the immune system over time, leaving children vulnerable to diseases that can kill them.

In the Sahel, the semiarid region south of the Sahara Desert that is a hotbed for violent extremism, acute malnutrition – worse than extreme food poverty – has risen to emergency levels, said Alfred Ejem, a senior adviser. food security. with the Mercy Corps aid group in Africa.

Because of the displacement and climate change, families resorted to “poor coping mechanisms like eating leaves and locusts just to survive,” Ejem said.

In conflict-ridden Sudan, children are dying from severe malnutrition.

In Nigeria’s troubled northwest, French medical organization Doctors Without Borders said at least 850 children died last year within 24 to 48 hours of being admitted to its health facilities.

“We are resorting to treating patients on mattresses on the floor because our facilities are full,” said Simba Tirima, MSF’s Nigeria representative, on Tuesday.

Many malnourished children in the region do not make it to hospital because they live in remote areas or their families cannot afford care.

Inequality also plays a role in extreme food poverty among children in Africa, the new report said. In South Africa, the most unequal country in the world, severe food poverty affects about one in four children despite being the most developed country on the continent.

Governments and partners must act urgently, said author Torlesse: “The work starts now.”


The Associated Press receives financial support for global health and development coverage in Africa from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation Trust. The AP is solely responsible for all matters. Find AP standards for working with philanthropies, a list of supporters and covered areas of funding at

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