Ticking Time Bombs for the Most Defenceless: The Children (II)

In Nigeria's Northeast the number of children suffering from acute malnutrition is projected to increase to two million in 2023. Credit: UNOCHA/Christina Powell.
In Nigeria's Northeast the number of children suffering from acute malnutrition is projected to increase to two million in 2023. Credit: UNOCHA/Christina Powell.
  • by Baher Kamal (madrid)
  • Inter Press Service

Part I of this series of two articles focussed on the unprecedented suffering of the most innocent and helpless human beings – children– in 11 countries. But there are many more.

According to the UN Children Fund (UNICEF), hundreds of thousands of children continue to pay the highest price of a mixture of man-made brutalities, with their lives, apart from the unfolding proxy war in Ukraine, and the not yet final account of victims of the Türkiye and Syria earthquakes, which are forcing children to sleep in the streets under the rumble, amid the chilling cold.


Nigeria is just one of the already reported cases of 11 countries. UNICEF on 11 February 2023 appealed for 1.3 billion US dollars to stop what it calls “the ticking bomb of child malnutrition.”

The appeal is meant to help six million people severely affected by conflict, disease, and disaster in Northeast Nigeria.

“The large-scale humanitarian and protection crisis shows no sign of abating,” said Matthias Schmale, the UN Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator for Nigeria. “An estimated 2.4 million people are in acute need – impacted by conflict, disaster and disease – and require urgent support.”

The “ticking time bomb” of child malnutrition is escalating in Nigeria's Northeast, with the number of children suffering from acute malnutrition projected to increase to two million in 2023, up from 1.74 million last year, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs reported.

Already high levels of severe acute malnutrition are projected to more than double from 2022 to a projected 697,000 this year. Women and girls are the hardest hit, said Schmale.

“Over 80% of people in need of humanitarian assistance across Borno, Adamawa and Yobe states are women and children. They face increased risks of violence, abduction, rape and abuse.”

The UN Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide Alice Nderitu raised concerns about a worsening security situation, calling for urgent action to address conflicts and prevent “atrocity crimes.”

Horn of Africa: the suffering of over 20 million children

By the end of 2022, UNICEF warned of a funding shortfall as the region faces an unprecedented fifth consecutive failed rainy season and a poor outlook for the sixth.

The number of children suffering dire drought conditions across Ethiopia, Kenya and Somalia has "more than doubled in five months," according to UNICEF.

“Around 20.2 million children are now facing the threat of severe hunger, thirst and disease, compared to 10 million in July , as climate change, conflict, global inflation and grain shortages devastate the region.”

While collective and accelerated efforts have mitigated some of the worst impacts of what had been feared, “children in the Horn of Africa are still facing the most severe drought in more than two generations,” said UNICEF Deputy Regional Director for Eastern and Southern Africa Lieke van de Wiel.

"Humanitarian assistance must be continued to save lives and build the resilience of the staggering number of children and families who are being pushed to the edge – dying from hunger and disease and being displaced in search of food, water and pasture for their livestock.”

Nearly two million children across Ethiopia, Kenya, and Somalia are currently estimated to require ”urgent treatment for severe acute malnutrition, the deadliest form of hunger.”

In addition, across Ethiopia, Kenya and Somalia:

  • More than two million people are displaced internally because of drought.
  • Water insecurity has more than doubled with close to 24 million people now confronting dire water shortages.
  • Approximately 2.7 million children are out of school because of the drought, with an additional estimated 4 million children at risk of dropping out.
  • As families are driven to the edge dealing with increased stress, children face a range of protection risks – including child labour, child marriage and female genital mutilation.
  • Gender-based violence, including sexual violence, exploitation and abuse, is also increasing due to widespread food insecurity and displacement.

UNICEF’s 2023 emergency appeal of US$759 million to provide life-saving support to children and their families will require timely and flexible funding support, especially in the areas of education, water and sanitation, and child protection, which were ”severely underfunded” during UNICEF’s 2022 response.

An additional US$690 million is required to support long-term investments to help children and their families to recover and adapt to climate change.

Meanwhile, more unfolding tragedies for children

The above-reported suffering for the most defenceless human beings–children, does not end here. Indeed, two more major tragedies continue unfolding. Such is the case of the brutal proxy war in Ukraine and the most destructive earthquakes in Türkiye and Syria.

Türkiye-Syria Earthquakes

A steady flow of UN aid trucks filled with vital humanitarian relief continues to cross the border from Southern Türkiye into Northwest Syria to help communities enduring "terrible trauma" caused by the earthquake disaster, UN aid teams on 17 February 2023 reported.

As UN aid convoys continue to deliver more relief to quake-hit Northwest Syria via additional land routes from Türkiye, UN humanitarians warned that “many thousands of children have likely been killed,” while millions more vulnerable people urgently need support.

“Even without verified numbers, it's tragically clear the number of children killed, the number of children orphaned is going to keep on rising,” on 14 February 2023 said UN Children Fund (UNICEF) spokesperson James Elder.

In Türkiye, the total number of children living in the 10 provinces before the emergency was 4.6 million, and 2.5 million in Syria.

And as the humanitarian focus shifts from rescue to recovery, eight days after the disaster, Elder warned that cases of “hypothermia and respiratory infections” were rising among youngsters, as he appealed for continued solidarity with all those affected by the emergency.

“Everyone, everywhere, needs more support, more safe water, more warmth, more shelter, more fuel, more medicines, more funding,” he said.

“Families with children are sleeping in streets, malls, mosques, schools, under bridges, staying out in the open for fear of returning to their homes.”

“Unimaginable hardship”

"The children and families of Türkiye and Syria are facing unimaginable hardship in the aftermath of these devastating earthquakes," said UNICEF Executive Director Catherine Russell.

“We must do everything in our power to ensure that everyone who survived this catastrophe receives life-saving support, including safe water, sanitation, critical nutrition and health supplies, and support for children's mental health. Not only now, but over the long term.”

The number of children killed and injured during the quakes and their aftermath has not yet been confirmed but is likely to be in the many thousands. The official total death toll has now passed 45,000.


Many families have lost their homes and are now living in temporary shelters, “often in freezing conditions and with snow and rain adding to their suffering.” Access to safe water and sanitation is also a major concern, as are the health needs of the affected population.


Months of escalating conflict have left millions of children in Ukraine vulnerable to biting winds and frigid temperatures, UNICEF reports.

Hundreds of thousands of people have seen their homes, businesses or schools damaged or destroyed while continuing attacks on critical energy infrastructure have left millions of children without sustained access to electricity, heating and water.

The list of brutalities committed against the world's children goes on. The funds desperately needed to save their lives represent a tiny faction of all that is being spent on wars.

© Inter Press Service (2023) — All Rights ReservedOriginal source: Inter Press Service