In northeast Nigeria, the number of children suffering from acute malnutrition is expected to increase to two million by 2023. Credit: UNOCHA/Christina Powell.
In northeast Nigeria, the number of children suffering from acute malnutrition is expected to increase to two million by 2023. Credit: UNOCHA/Christina Powell.
  • by Baher Kamal (Madrid)
  • Interpress service

Part I of this two-article series focused on the unprecedented suffering of the most innocent and helpless people – children – in 11 countries. But there are many more.

According to the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), hundreds of thousands of children continue to pay the ultimate price for a mix of man-made brutalities with their lives, in addition to the ongoing proxy war in Ukraine and the not-yet-final account of the victims of Turkey and earthquakes in Syria, forcing children to sleep in the streets under the rumble, amid the frigid cold.


Nigeria is just one of the already reported cases in 11 countries. UNICEF appealed on 11 February 2023 for US$1.3 billion to stop what it calls “the ticking time bomb of child malnutrition”.

The appeal is intended to help six million people who are badly affected by conflicts, diseases and disasters in northeastern Nigeria.

“The large-scale humanitarian and protection crisis shows no sign of abating,” said Matthias Schmale, UN Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator for Nigeria. “An estimated 2.4 million people are in urgent need – affected by conflict, disaster and disease – and need urgent support.”

The “ticking bomb” of child malnutrition is escalating in Nigeria’s northeast, with the number of children suffering from acute malnutrition expected to rise to two million by 2023, up from 1.74 million last year. United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs reported.

Already high levels of severe acute malnutrition are projected to more than double from 2022 to an estimated 697,000 this year. Women and girls are hit hardest, Schmale said.

“Over 80% of people in need of humanitarian assistance in Borno, Adamawa and Yobe states are women and children. They face increased risks of violence, abduction, rape and abuse.”

UN Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide Alice Nderitu raised concerns about a deteriorating security situation and called for urgent action to address conflicts and prevent “heinous crimes”.

The Horn of Africa: the suffering of over 20 million children

By the end of 2022, UNICEF warned of a funding shortfall as the region faces an unprecedented fifth straight failed rainy season and poor prospects for a sixth.

The number of children suffering from severe drought in Ethiopia, Kenya and Somalia has “more than doubled in five months”, according to UNICEF.

“Some 20.2 million children now face the threat of severe hunger, thirst and disease, up from 10 million in July, as climate change, conflict, global inflation and grain shortages ravage the region.”

While collective and accelerated efforts have mitigated some of the worst effects of what had been feared, “children in the Horn of Africa are still facing the most severe drought in more than two generations.” said UNICEF Deputy Regional Director for Eastern and Southern Africa Lieke van de Wiel.

“Humanitarian assistance must continue to save lives and build the resilience of the staggering number of children and families pushed to the edge – dying of hunger and disease and displaced in search of food, water and pasture for their livestock.”

Almost two million children in Ethiopia, Kenya and Somalia are currently estimated to be in need “urgent treatment for severe acute malnutrition, the deadliest form of starvation.”

Also in Ethiopia, Kenya and Somalia:

  • More than two million people are internally displaced due to drought.
  • Water insecurity has more than doubled with close to 24 million people now confronted with severe water shortages.
  • Approximately 2.7 million children are out of school due to the drought, with an additional estimated 4 million children at risk of dropping out.
  • As families are pushed to the edge to cope with increased stress, children face a range of protection risks – including child labour, child marriage and female genital mutilation.
  • Gender-based violence, including sexual violence, exploitation and abuse, is also increasing due to widespread food insecurity and displacement.

UNICEF’s 2023 emergency appeal of $759 million to provide life-saving support to children and their families will require rapid and flexible funding support, particularly in the areas of education, water and sanitation, and child protection, which were “severely underfunded” in UNICEF’s 2022 response.

An additional $690 million is required to support long-term investments to help children and their families recover and adapt to climate change.

At the same time, more tragedies are unfolding for children

The above reported suffering of the most defenseless people – the children, does not end here. In fact, two more major tragedies continue to unfold. Such is the case with the brutal proxy war in Ukraine and the most destructive earthquakes in Turkey and Syria.

Earthquakes in Turkey and Syria

A steady flow of UN aid trucks filled with vital humanitarian aid continues to cross the border from southern Türkiye to northwestern Syria to help communities suffering “terrible trauma” caused by the earthquake disaster, UN aid team on February 17, 2023 reported.

As UN aid convoys continue to deliver more aid to earthquake-stricken northwestern Syria via additional land routes from Türkiye, UN humanitarians have warned that “many thousands of children are likely to have been killed”, while millions more vulnerable people urgently need support.

“Even without verified numbers, it is tragically clear that the number of children killed, the number of orphans will continue to rise”, February 14, 2023 said United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) spokesman James Elder.

In Türkiye, the total number of children living in the 10 provinces before the emergency was 4.6 million and 2.5 million in Syria.

And as the humanitarian focus shifts from rescue to recovery, eight days after the disaster, Elder warned that cases of “hypothermia and respiratory infections” were increasing among young people, as he appealed for continued solidarity with all those affected by the emergency.

“Everyone, everywhere, needs more support, more safe water, more heat, more shelter, more fuel, more medicine, more funding,” he said.

“Families with children are sleeping in streets, malls, mosques, schools, under bridges and staying out in the open for fear of returning to their homes.”

“Incredible difficulties”

“The children and families of Turkiye and Syria are facing unimaginable hardship in the aftermath of these devastating earthquakes.” said UNICEF Executive Director Catherine Russell.

“We must do everything in our power to ensure that all survivors of this disaster receive life-saving support, including clean water, sanitation, essential nutrition and health supplies, and support for children’s mental health. Not just now, but in the long term .”

The number of children killed and injured in the earthquakes and their aftermath has not yet been confirmed but is likely to be in the thousands. The official total death toll has now passed 45,000.


Many families have lost their homes and are now living in temporary shelters, “often in freezing conditions and with snow and rain adding to their suffering.” Access to clean water and sanitation is also a major concern, as are the health needs of the affected population.


Months of escalating conflict has left millions of children in Ukraine vulnerable to biting winds and frigid temperatures, UNICEF reports.

Hundreds of thousands of people have seen their homes, businesses or schools damaged or destroyed, while continued attacks on critical energy infrastructure have left millions of children without lasting access to electricity, heat and water.

The list of brutalities committed against the children of the world goes on. The funds desperately needed to save their lives represent a tiny fraction of all that is spent on war.

© Inter Press Service (2023) — All rights reservedOriginal source: Inter Press Service