Society

Hunger kills more children in Africa than anything else

Almost 60 million children in Africa do not have enough food while across the continent, hunger contributes to 45% of childhood deaths, according to a study by the African Child Policy Forum.

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Furthermore, nine out of 10 children are not meeting the the criteria for a minimum acceptable diet as outlined by the World Health Organization (WHO).

The criteria measure the quality, quantity, and how often food is taken, including exclusive breastfeeding, when solid food can be introduced to a diet, and what nutrients should be found in every meal for newborns to children up to 23 months old.

According to the report: “Only two in five children meet the minimum meal frequency; about one in five meets the minimum dietary diversity; and fewer than one in 10 meet the criteria for minimum acceptable diet.”

Findings from the report were presented in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, at the end of May to a delegation of heads of state, human rights campaigners, and children’s and women’s rights activists.

“It is completely unacceptable that children are still going hungry in Africa in the 21st century," said Dr Assefa Bequele, ACPF’s executive director, in a media statement. "The statistics are truly alarming. Nine out of 10 African children don’t get enough nutritious food. One in three is stunted. Two out of five don’t eat regular meals.”

He added that this is despite Africa currently producing more food than ever. Nevertheless, hunger remains a prevalent issue — largely because the continent is still battling with ongoing challenges, including conflict, that hinder its development and ultimately affect the quality of life.

Africa still experiences high levels of extreme poverty, unequal economic growth, and gender inequality.

And conflict and climate change “only serve to make it more complicated,” said Bequele.

The study also found that “globally, a child dies every three seconds due to hunger.”

Central Africa has the highest rates of child hunger across the continent, with 48.5% of children in the region not having enough food. It’s 32.4% in East Africa; 30.9% in Southern Africa; 29.5% in West Africa; and 12.4% in North Africa.

“Child hunger remains a persisting and a pressing problem in Africa,” said Bequele. “No less significantly, it diminishes children’s sense of worth, their self-esteem, and dignity. It also leads to anti-social behaviour and crime. It is a most demeaning form of deprivation with huge personal, social, and economic costs. And it is a huge problem in Africa.”

But Bequele said hunger is a political problem that needs political will and action from African leaders. Graça Machel, chair of ACPF’s international board of trustees said in a statement that governments need to prioritise gender equality if the joint issues of hunger and extreme poverty are to be ended.

“Women and girls, along with children from poor and rural backgrounds, suffer the most from hunger,” she said. “In some countries, stunting rates are twice as high among rural children as among their urban counterparts.”

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