Over half a million children at risk of malnutrition in Malawi

Under five chiildren
  • New humanitarian Action appeal for children in Malawi launched to increase funding from US$52.4 to US$87.7 million.

United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) has warned that at least 573,000 children under-five are at risk of suffering from malnutrition in the country.

This comes against a background of Malawi still grappling with the devastation caused by Tropical Cyclone Freddy in March this year, with 659,000 people currently internally displaced, including many children plus an ongoing cholera outbreak which has already claimed 1,759 lives.

A press release from UNICEF noted that despite recent progress in reducing chronic malnutrition, acute food insecurity compounded by recurrent climate shocks, preventable disease outbreaks, economic instability and chronic underfunding in the social sectors threaten to reverse past gains.

"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.

"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,” said UNICEF Country Representative Gianfranco Rotigliano.

A new Humanitarian Action for Children (HAC) appeal, launched by the UN agency on 19th May, shows an increase in malnutrition cases among children in Malawi over the last five years, with the challenge accelerating significantly in recent months.

Rotigliano: The prospect of having over half a million children suffering from malnutrition is unacceptable

In 2023 alone, it is estimated that over 62,000 children, aged between 6 to 59 months, are at risk of severe acute malnutrition (SAM), often called wasting.

In response to the urgent needs of 6.5 million people, including 3.3 million children, UNICEF has increased its appeal for Malawi from US$52.4 to US$87.7 million.

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

With the support of donors and partners, in the first quarter of 2023, UNICEF assisted Malawi Government in screening 140,307 children under the age of five for acute malnutrition.

Among them, 522 children were identified as having SAM 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.

 “But beyond the immediate response, 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,” said Rotigliano.