UNICEF lists Nigeria, Afghanistan, 10 others as worst hit by nutrition crisis
A new global report by United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) has listed Nigeria and 11 others as 12 hardest hit countries by food and nutrition crisis. The document indicated that 7.3 million adolescent girls and women, aged 15-49, in the most populous black nation, are undernourished. Others captured in the report include Afghanistan; Burkina Faso; Chad; Ethiopia; Kenya; Mali and Niger.
The rest are Somalia, South Sudan, Sudan and Yemen. They represent the epicentres of a global nutrition crisis that has been worsened by negative impacts of COVID-19 and ongoing war in Ukraine, besides unrelenting drought, conflicts and instabilities in some of the affected nations.
Issued ahead of today’s International Women’s Day celebration, the report, titled, ‘Undernourished and Overlooked: A Global Nutrition Crisis in Adolescent Girls and Women’, warned that ongoing crises, aggravated by unending gender inequality, were deepening a nutrition disaster among adolescent girls and women that had already shown little improvement in the last two decades.
It revealed that the number of adolescent girls and women between the age of 15 and 49 years, who are undernourished in Nigeria, soared from 5.6 million in 2018 to 7.3 million by 2021.
The document noted that 55 per cent of adolescent girls and women in Nigeria suffer from anaemia, while nearly half of Nigerian women of reproductive age do not consume recommended diets of at least five of 10 food groups (grains and tubers, pulses, nuts and seeds, dairy, meat, poultry and fish, eggs, dark green leafy vegetables, other vitamin A rich fruits and vegetables, other vegetables and fruits), according to the 2022 National Food Consumption and Micronutrient Survey.
Commenting on the report, UNICEF Executive Director, Catherine Russell, acknowledged that nutrition crisis was pushing millions of mothers and their children into hunger and severe malnutrition, warning that without urgent action from the international community, the consequences could last for generations to come.
“To prevent under-nutrition in children, we must also address malnutrition in adolescent girls and women,” she appealed.
According to the report, South Asia and Sub-Saharan African remain epicentres of the catastrophe. It stated that global crises have continued to disproportionately disrupt women’s access to nutritious food, adding that in 2021, there were 126 million more food insecure women than men, compared to the 49 million figure of 2019, more than doubling the gender gap of food insecurity.
The report called on governments, development and humanitarian partners and donors, civil society organisations and development actors to transform food, health and social protection systems for adolescent girls and women by prioritising their access to nutritious, safe and affordable diets, protecting them from ultra-processed foods through marketing restrictions, compulsory front-of-pack labelling and taxation, implementing policies and mandatory legal measures to expand large-scale food fortification of routinely consumed foods such as flour, cooking oil and salt to reduce micronutrient deficiencies and anaemia in the gender, as well as ensuring that those of them in low and middle-income countries have free access to essential nutrition services before, during and after pregnancy.
In her remarks, UNICEF Nigeria Country Representative, Cristian Munduate, observed that to ensure a “better future for our children, we must prioritise access of adolescent girls and women to nutritious food and essential nutrition services.”