At least 14.5 million Nigerians are facing acute food insecurity, largely due to persisting insecurity and the devastating impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) disclosed on Thursday.
Nkeiru Enwelum, Nutrition officer, UNICEF who disclosed this, stated that the situation is worsening the burden of malnutrition, adding that Nigeria is at risk of back-sliding on of the gains made on nutrition and achieving the Sustainable Development Goal (SDG)on zero hunger by 2030.
Enwelum stated this at a media dialogue on SDGs as child rights with a focus on malnutrition organised by the Child Rights Information Bureau (CRIB) of the Federal Ministry of Information and Culture in collaboration with UNICEF in Enugu.
Quoting latest statistics, Enwelum disclosed that Nigeria did not make any progress on the SDG nutrition targets since 2015 as the country has remained the country with the highest number of malnourished children in Africa and second highest in the world.
According to the 2018 Nigeria Demographic and Health Survey, Nigeria has 35 million children under the age of five. Out of which, 14 million are stunted, 3 million are wasted and 24 million are anaemic due to poor nutrition.
The data also shows that 45 percent of deaths in children under the age of five is caused by malnutrition, and Nigeria loses 15 percent of her GDP annually to the burden.
Chidi Ezinwa, a public health expert from Enugu State University of Science and Technology speaking at the dialogue, expressed concerns that Nigeria may continue to lag on nutrition targets and the overall SDG goals.
“We are making a backward movement. In 2019 we ranked 159th, in 2020, we ranked 160th, but before that time, there was no crisis in different parts of the country. Now that we have this crisis situation, it is reasonable to think that malnutrition will be on the increase because you can’t separate conflict from malnutrition and hunger. Given the situation we are not likely to make any progress,” he said.
Ezinwa stressed that SDGs cannot be realised without recognising and fulfilling the rights of children. The expert however regretted that rising poverty and hunger is denying children of some of their basic rights, such as the right to quality healthcare, and education, among others.
The expert disclosed that more than 70 percent of Nigerian children live in poverty and 23.3 percent live in extreme poverty.
“The SDG index shows that many rights of children are yet to be fulfilled in Nigeria. Hence, Nigeria is far from realising the SDGs . Children are not objects rather they are human beings and individuals with their own rights. A sustainable future depends on how we meet the needs of children and young people, ” he stressed.
Geoffrey Njoku, communication specialist, UNICEF warned that malnutrition should not be treated as a northern problem. According to him, doing so could deny children suffering from malnutrition in the south the intervention they need.