Severe Malnutrition Rates Shoot up Across Kenya, Leaving More Than 70,000 Children at Risk of Death

FAIRFIELD, Conn. (August 21, 2017)— Nearly 73,000 children in Kenya are severely malnourished and at risk of dying from drought-related hunger unless urgent aid is made immediately available.

The warning comes as results from joint nutrition assessments conducted by county departments of health, UNICEF and nine humanitarian organizations working on the ground—including Save the Children—are revealed.

The survey shows that in Turkana County alone, severe acute malnutrition rates—the most life-threatening form of hunger—are up nearly four-fold in just one year, from 2.3 percent to 8.3 percent. In Turkana South, an unprecedented 12 percent of children under five now suffer from severe acute malnutrition.

The assessments also reveal alarmingly high severe acute malnutrition rates in East Pokot (5.8 percent), Mandera (5.2 percent), Samburu (3.8 percent), and West Pokot (3.2 percent). These counties have also seen an extreme deterioration in nutrition and food security.

Following the general election two weeks ago, the humanitarian organizations are urgently calling on the national and local governments—who are leading on the drought response, in coordination with aid agencies—to prioritize critical funds and support for the response. This includes food programs to reach the most vulnerable and prevent needless deaths.

"The drought has left tens of thousands of children and families—including the most vulnerable under five, pregnant and breastfeeding mothers—in a life-threatening situation," said Francis Woods, Save the Children’s Interim Country Director in Kenya.

"The overall nutrition situation continues to be of great concern, including deteriorations recorded in some counties. The situation is likely to worsen as we enter the lean and short rains season," said Patrick Mweki, Action Against Hunger Country Director for Kenya and Somalia.

"The recent elections must be used as an opportunity to reverse the tragedy unfolding in many parts of the country. We urge the new national and county governments to act now to prevent children from dying."

The survey also reveals that nearly 40,000 pregnant and nursing women across Kenya are malnourished— a 20 percent increase from last year—leaving their lives and their children’s lives hanging in the balance.

"Families in some of the hardest-hit areas have been pushed to the brink with the loss of their livestock, which they depend on for their livelihood, food and milk. Many of them are now barely surviving on just a meal a day, when they can find it. Many mothers can no longer breastfeed their babies because they’re too malnourished to produce enough milk," added Woods.

Despite government cash transfers, many households in the country’s northern region aren’t meeting their daily recommended food requirements. A recent cost of diet assessment in Turkana County by Save the Children/UNICEF shows that even households classified as better off can no longer afford three meals a day due to food shortages, which have led to rising food prices.

"The international community must make more funds available to support the Kenyan government and aid agencies working on the ground to stop this already critical situation from spiraling – which would worsen an already extremely dangerous situation for Kenya’s children and mothers," said François Batalingaya, World Vision’s Country Director in Kenya.

As experienced in neighboring Somalia, the risk is that once the high rates of malnutrition combine with disease outbreaks prompted by a lack of clean water, large numbers of young children will start to die from hunger and related complications, like diarrhea.

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