9 out of 10 Gaza children experiencing severe food poverty: UNICEF report News
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9 out of 10 Gaza children experiencing severe food poverty: UNICEF report

Nine out of 10 children in Gaza could not eat nutrients from enough food groups to ensure healthy growth and development, a United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF) report published on Thursday found.

The report points out that localized conflicts are intensifying severe child food poverty. Children in extremely fragile contexts, such as in Afghanistan, Somalia, and the Gaza Strip in the State of Palestine, are experiencing “exceptionally high level” food poverty and life-threatening malnutrition. In the Gaza Strip, military action which has “destroyed farmland, left livestock starving, decimated the fishing fleet, and damaged food processing and warehouse facilities,” together with the severe restrictions on import and humanitarian aid, has collapsed the food and health systems, causing catastrophic consequences to children in the region.

The report considers children who consume less than two of the eight defined food groups to be in “severe child food poverty.” Having conducted five rounds of data collection from December 2023 to April 2024, assessing child food poverty by asking real-time questions via SMS texting using RapidPro, an open source platform, UNICEF identified that about nine in 10 children (between 88 percent and 95 percent) “were living in severe child food poverty, surviving on diets comprising two or fewer food groups per day – one of the highest percentages ever recorded.” Compared with the 13 percent of children experiencing severe child food poverty in 2020, this result, according to the UNICEF, demonstrates the “appalling escalation in nutrition deprivation” as well as the threat of the conflict to children’s survival, growth and development.

According to the estimate of the Palestinian Ministry of Health, more than 14,000 children have been killed since the initiation of the war, while thousands more have been injured and 17,000 unaccompanied or separated. “All of Gaza’s children have been exposed to the traumatic experiences of war, the consequences of which will last a lifetime,” said UNICEF Executive Director Catherine Russell in a statement on May 9 on military operations in Rafah

The report, “Child Food Poverty: Nutrition Deprivation in Early Childhood,” analyzes the impacts and causes of dietary deprivation among children in around 100 countries and across income groups. In addition to the situations in Gaza, it also identified that, worldwide, around 181 million children under 5 years old–or 1 in 4–are experiencing severe child food poverty, which will make them up to 50 percent more likely to experience life-threatening malnutrition. Out of the 181 million affected, about 64 million are living in South Asia, while around 59 million are in Sub-Saharan Africa. 

To end child food poverty, UNICEF called on governments and relevant parties to transform and leverage food and health systems and activate social protection systems to address income poverty. In 2023, it launched the Child Nutrition Fund (CNF) with the support of the UK Foreign Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO), the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and the Children’s Investment Fund Foundation (CIFF) to tackle malnutrition in children and women.