UNICEF: Climate Change Leaves ‘Dire Situation’ for 45 Million African Children

Harare, Zimbabwe — The United Nations children’s fund says there is a “dire situation” in several eastern and southern African countries, where at least 45 million children are dealing with severe food insecurity made worse by climate change.

In a statement, Eva Kadilli, the UNICEF director for eastern and southern Africa, said millions of people are living through multiple and often overlapping crises intensified by the 2023-24 El Nino weather phenomenon, one of the strongest on record. 

Christiane Rudert, a nutrition adviser for UNICEF in eastern and southern Africa, told VOA that many countries in her region have very high rates of child stunting or acute malnutrition. She said the rates are getting worse because of extreme weather patterns, such as a prolonged heat wave and drought, associated with climate change. 

“For example, in Malawi, affected by the current El Nino phenomenon, data from the routine nutrition program showed a worsening of the nutrition status of children and increased admissions for acute malnutrition,” Rudert said. “Almost half of the 21 countries are at the very highest risk of climate change impacts for children in this region. Even small gains in nutrition are now being reversed before our eyes.” 

Wongani Grace Taulo, UNICEF regional education adviser for eastern and southern Africa, said UNICEF is attempting to help children and their families learn ways of coping with climate change through the schools.  

“UNICEF is working with partners, but specifically governments, [other] U.N. agencies, civil society, and communities to integrate climate education into the education system, particularly on infrastructure, the use of renewable energy and waste management,” Taulo said.

“Let me mention Zimbabwe, where we are working with the government on the clean green schools initiative,” Taulo added, “where all aspects of climate change strategies are actually integrated into how we are delivering education from the school to the community and creating an ecosystem that is going to be able to address the effects of climate change.” 

While that may help southern Africa in the long term, many Zimbabweans are concerned with their situation here and now.

Elita Ncube said her family is living in poverty, and her three children struggle to go to school because of irregular meals. 

She said there is nothing to eat from the fields. In the past, she said, she has survived by selling mopane worms, but this year there is nothing to sell. Her animals have no water to drink, and her goats and cattle will die, she said. 

Ncube once had donors that helped with food, she added, and she wishes they would return, or at least give her work to do in exchange for food.

July Moyo, the minister of social welfare, said Tuesday that Zimbabwe’s government will not rush to join Malawi and Zambia in declaring the current drought a national disaster.

Moyo said there is no scientific reason to warrant a disaster declaration.

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