El Niño drought leaves 1 million African children severely malnourished - UN

Wed Feb 17, 2016 11:58am GMT

By Megan Rowling

BARCELONA (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Nearly 1 million children need treatment for severe malnutrition in eastern and southern Africa due to drought that is putting millions more at risk of hunger, water shortages and disease, the U.N. children's agency said on Wednesday.

Even though the powerful El Niño weather phenomenon blamed for the drought is forecast to dissipate in the coming months, its impact on people in affected countries will last far longer, the United Nations has warned.

"El Niño... will wane, but the cost to children - many who were already living hand-to-mouth - will be felt for years to come," said Leila Gharagozloo-Pakkala, regional director for east and southern Africa with the U.N. Children's Fund (UNICEF).

"Governments are responding with available resources, but this is an unprecedented situation. Children's survival is dependent on action taken today," she added in a statement.

In a late January update, the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said El Niño would affect more than 60 million people across parts of Africa, the Pacific, Asia and Latin America.

The current impacts of El Niño - a warming of sea-surface temperatures in the Pacific - include drought in Central America, southern Africa, Indonesia and the Philippines, and wetter conditions in the southern Horn of Africa, south Brazil, Peru and Ecuador.

The extreme weather is hitting production of staple foods in those regions, including maize, rice and wheat.

In Africa, Zimbabwe, Lesotho and most provinces in South Africa have declared a disaster, while in Ethiopia, the number of people in need of food aid is expected to rise to 18 million by the end of 2016 from just over 10 million now, UNICEF said.   Continued...

Children watch as women pump water from a borehole near Malawi's capital Lilongwe, February 2, 2016.  REUTERS/Mike Hutchings
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