Childhood malnutrition, the unbearable reverse of the pandemic
Covid -19 has shot to pieces all aid programs against global childhood malnutrition. The situation of extreme vulnerability in which millions of children in the poorest regions have been left is a collateral emergency to that of the virus which has already turned into a terrible humanitarian crisis. The difficulty of access to safe water, hygiene and sanitation always goes hand in hand with abandoned and malnourished children. The international reaction has already started and aid projects are greatly increasing. Together we will succeed.
The closure of schools due to lockdown is one of the triggering factors of child famine. For many children, school is much more than a place to learn; it is the way to be physically safe, to benefit from health services, to practice hygiene and use sanitation facilities that are not available at home. But for many, school is above all, nutrition: many children eat their only daily meal there.
UNICEF estimates that 370 million children are at risk of malnutrition due to the closure of schools because of the pandemic. These meals are especially important for girls as this is, in many cases, an incentive for their parents, who cannot feed them, to send them to school, freeing them from domestic burdens and early marriage.
Street children without support
UNICEF and the NGOs working with children also warn that the pandemic threatens to cause an unprecedented humanitarian crisis for children engaged in begging and garbage collection. With lockdowns in cities, there are no handouts or street vending and many have lost the precarious governmental or non-governmental aid they received because they , and not even their families, who have sent them to beg, know their whereabouts. It is estimated that more than 150 million children worldwide are homeless and live in the markets where they trade, or in makeshift slums. Their exposure and vulnerability to malnutrition has greatly increased and they live in totally unsanitary conditions, suffering from scabies and other diseases and without access to safe water and sanitation.
News of this dramatic situation for children has multiplied with the pandemic. In Senegal, 50,000 child beggars from Koranic schools have been left on the streets. In Ghana there are fears about the fate of some 100,000 homeless children. In Nigeria, where some 10.5 million children were out of school last year and more than 360,000 children were at risk of suffering acute malnutrition, there are serious concerns about the fate of the street vendors of water, fruit, sweets and trinkets who proliferate in the country’s cities and who have been left without a livelihood for themselves and their families. The African Union describes this as the “informal sector”, which is also widespread in countries like South Africa, Rwanda or Zimbabwe.
The WHO and the World Food Programme warn that last June malnutrition had notably increased in Yemen, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Afghanistan, countries that account for one third of the total number of people suffering from extreme hunger, with Venezuela being the fourth country in the world most affected by the food crisis.
In India, the neglect in which some communities live has worsened with the pandemic. An example is the situation of primitive tribal groups, such as the Chenchus of the Dornala area in Andhra Pradesh, who have been living for decades with a high risk of malnutrition, lack of access to water and poor sanitary conditions, and who motivated one of the of the Foundation, in collaboration with the Vicente Ferrer Foundation. There, the lack of information on the pandemic is mainly affecting women who need to fetch water and who have been rejected for fear of contagion.
News of the children’s distress in poor countries has made the headlines in international media, albeit not with the required visibility. The world is facing a humanitarian disaster that requires awareness and immediate pressure on politicians and business owners for immediate action. This reaction has already started and is urgently developing. Collaborative projects such as those planned by the We Are Water Foundation open a door to hope that we must all enlarge.