MAPUTO, 25 April – The number of acutely malnourished children under five in cyclone-hit areas in Mozambique is expected to jump from nearly 60,000 to 115,000, after crops and livelihoods were swept away by the storm, Save the Children warned today.
Thousands of children in the disaster-struck areas were already on the brink of hunger when Cyclone Idai made landfall on 14 March 2019. The rains, winds and floods destroyed 715,300 hectares of crops just before the harvest – about 13 percent of the farmland in Mozambique, an area with the equivalent of almost 1 million football fields – placing more children at risk of malnutrition.
With a new cyclone Kenneth bound to make landfall in the north of Mozambique later today, just over a month after cyclone Idai, these numbers might rise even further. Save the Children is concerned about the potential impact of this new cyclone on children and is assessing response options.
“In the areas already hit by cyclone Idai, time to replant crops is running out by the day. Hundreds of thousands of families will be left without an income until the next harvest, and their children without enough to eat,” said Getinet Babu, nutrition advisor for Save the Children in Mozambique.
“Last week we met a woman who was using a stick to dig through a metre of dry mud so she could re-plant her maize crop. She had only managed to salvage an armful of maize to feed her children for the foreseeable future. The rest of her crop was destroyed in the floods.”
A shortage of nutritious food and a lack of sustained breastfeeding for infants less than six months old can lead to acute malnutrition among children, which was already a problem in Mozambique before the cyclone. An estimated 88,000 pregnant women and mothers of babies less than six months are also expected to need nutritional support.
“In the short-term, acutely malnourished children have weak immune systems and are more susceptible to dying from preventable diseases such as measles and diarrhoea. In the long-term, if a malnourished child survives, its development can be severely impacted – malnutrition stunts the growth of vital organs and body functions irreversibly. Urgent action is needed – tens of thousands of children in these disaster-affected areas might not survive to see their fifth birthday.
“Save the Children is calling for more funding to sustain food distributions, which need to include extra nutritious rations for malnourished children, to prevent a slide into acute malnutrition. Mothers also need to receive support to continue breastfeeding, which is vital for childrens health and development.”
Joice, 19, had a small farm in Manica province, which was completely in the cyclone. Recently she took her son Johan, 19 months, to a mobile clinic run by Save the Childrens Emergency Health Unit. The doctors diagnosed Johan with severe malnutrition and malaria, after which he was transported to the nearest hospital.
Joice said: “The cyclone took all our food, two houses and our clothes. It took our chickens – and all the animals we had. We were growing rice, vegetables and sweet potatoes, but everything is gone. We havent started farming again because we dont have the seeds. Life is very difficult because we dont have anything to eat.
“I came to the clinic today because my son has not been well. He has pain all over his body, he doesnt eat and hes losing weight. He weighs just over six kilograms. Thats what motivated me to come to the clinic.”
To meet the immediate needs of the affected families, Save the Children is distributing food in some of the hardest hit areas. Together with the government, the UN and other agencies, more than 1 million people have been reached with food assistance so far.
Save the Children is also distributing seeds and tools so families can replace their lost crops and rebuild their lives, and the organisations Emergency Health Unit is identifying malnourished children providing them with life-saving high-energy peanut paste and referring them on for further care.
NOTES TO EDITORS:
The Nutrition Cluster in Mozambique, a consortia of specialist nutrition agencies including Save the Children, UNICEF, and Action Against Hunger, estimate that the number of children who are acutely malnourished following the disaster is expected to rise to 114,750, an increase of 55,000 from the initial 59,649. The increase is expected due to loss of crops, income and food stores and a poor diet.
According to the World Health Organisation, children with severe acute malnutrition suffer from low body weight for their height and visible wasting. Severe acute malnutrition is a life-threatening condition.
Save the Children has been working in Mozambique since 1986. We are part of the COSACA consortium with CARE International and Oxfam, which was among the first to respond in the aftermath of the cyclone.