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Malawi: Over 500,000 children at risk of malnutrition, UNICEF warns

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© UNICEF Children play outside in Kaphuka, in Malawi (file).

Although the southern African country has made recent progress in reducing chronic malnutrition, the agency said these gains have been threatened by acute food insecurity, compounded by other challenges such as recurrent climate shocks, preventable disease outbreaks and economic instability. 

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Malawi was also slammed by Tropical Cyclone Freddy in March and is still grappling with the aftermath, with some 659,000 people displaced, including many children.  

Meanwhile, an ongoing cholera outbreak has already resulted in 1,750 deaths. 

An ‘unacceptable’ situation 

“Children in Malawi are at the sharp end of the global polycrisis. Food insecurity, exasperated by a growing climate crisis, disease outbreaks, and the global economic downturn, is threatening to wreak havoc and disrupt the lives of millions of children,” said UNICEF Country Representative Gianfranco Rotigliano.  

“The prospect of having over half a million children suffering from malnutrition is unacceptable. Without an immediate response, the impact on these vulnerable children will be deadly.”   

Stepping up support 

UNICEF has launched a new appeal for Malawi, which reveals that malnutrition cases among children have increased over the past five years and accelerated significantly in recent months.  

It is estimated that this year, over 62,000 children under five are at risk of severe acute malnutrition, also known as wasting.  

The UN agency had initially appealed for $52.4 million, which has been increased to $87.7 million to support 6.5 million people in Malawi, nearly half of them children.  

The funding will be used to meet priority needs, such as ready-to-use therapeutic food for treating severe acute malnutrition, access to safe drinking water, sanitation, hygiene items, health, nutrition, education, child protection services, and cash transfer schemes. 

Long-term solutions needed 

During the first quarter of 2023, UNICEF assisted the Malawian authorities in screening more than 140,300 under-fives for acute malnutrition. Of this number, 522 children were identified as severe acute, and were referred to health facilities for further care. 

“Without increased support, poor and vulnerable households with children will be left without access to basic services, essential supplies, and social assistance,” Mr. Rotigliano warned.  

He also underscored the need to look beyond the immediate response, saying “it is crucial that we invest in long-term solutions by strengthening systems and building resilience within communities to handle recurring outbreaks and humanitarian emergencies better.”  

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