Over 14M children in Nigeria to suffer malnutrition without urgent action- UNICEF warns

The United Nations International Children’s Fund (UNICEF) has warned that an estimated 14.7 million children under the age of five will suffer from moderate to severe malnutrition if the Nigerian government and stakeholders fail to take urgent action.

Nemat Hajeebhoy, the UNICEF Nigeria Chief of Nutrition said severe flooding, the loss of agricultural production, inflation and other factors are affecting the nation’s food security and nutrition which may worsen in 2023, with children suffering the consequences the most.

“Without urgent action, UNICEF estimates that 13 million children will suffer moderate malnutrition and 1.7 million children will suffer severe acute malnutrition this year (2022),” she said.

The Nutrition officer made this known at a high-level roundtable meeting on nutrition in Abuja on Thursday organised by the National Council on Nutrition (NCN) and other stakeholders.

Hajeebhoy also disclosed that almost 100 children under the age of five dies of malnutrition in Nigeria every hour, and 12 million children are living in severe food poverty.

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She said food prices have risen by 23 percent in the last one year, making it difficult for families to provide nutritious meals for their household. She said 1 in 3 households cannot afford the lowest-cost nutritious diet in the country.

According to her, only 34 percent of households in Nigeria can afford the lowest-cost diet estimated at N1,687 per household per day.

While reiterating that Nigeria still ranks number one in Africa and 2nd in the world in terms of the number of children malnourished, Hajeebhoy warned that the situation is threatening the survival, growth and development of children.

“Food poverty, poor diet are damaging children’s health. Food insecurity is a major threat to Nigeria’s future. IF Left untreated, children with Severe Acute Malnutrition (SAM), are nearly 12 times more likely to die than a healthy child,” she further stressed.

The nutrition expert added that malnutrition costs Nigeria up to 15 percent GDP loss, hence the government and all stakeholders must take urgent action to address the burden.

Data from the World Bank show that Nigeria loses $1.5 billion in GDP annually due to micro nutrient deficiencies. The bank also note that every $1 dollar invested in nutrition can generate $16 in returns, and reducing malnutrition can increase a country’s overall economic productivity by 11 percent as measured by GDP per capita.