Severe malnutrition rates shoot up across Kenya, leaving more than 70,000 children at risk of death

New survey reveals alarming malnutrition rates in Turkana, East Pokot, Mandera, Samburu, and West Pokot

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 the County Departments of Health and UNICEF, and nine aid organisations working on the ground— including Save the Children—are revealed.

The survey shows that in Turkana alone, severe acute malnutrition rates–the most life-threatening form of hunger–are up nearly four-fold in just one year, from 2.3% to 8.3%. In Turkana South, an unprecedented 12% 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%), Mandera (5.2%), Samburu (3.8%), and West Pokot (3.2%). These counties have also witnessed extreme deterioration in nutrition and food security

Following the general election nearly two weeks ago, the aid organisations are urgently calling on the national and local governments—who are leading on the drought response, in coordination with aid agencies—to prioritise critical funds and support for the response. This includes food programmes 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 just concluded general elections must be used as an opportunity to reverse the hunger 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% increase from last year—leaving their 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 starved to produce enough milk,” added Mr. 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.

“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 spiralling – 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 neighbouring 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 diarrhoea.

ENDS

For more information or to set up an interview, please contact:

Natasha Dos Santos
Natasha.dossantos@savethechildren.org
+44 7787 191957 in London

Bella Nyamamu
Bella.nyamamu@savethechildren.org
+254 722772370 in Nairobi

Notes to editors:

  • The survey assessments were carried in eight counties by the following aid organisations: Action Against Hunger-Kenya Mission, Concern Worldwide, Food for the Hungry, International Medical Corps, International Rescue Committee, Kenya Red Cross, Save the Children, Terre des hommes, and World Vision.

  • The study, which used the SMART method for nutrition assessment has reported very critical nutrition situation (Global Acute Malnutrition (GAM) of more than 30%) in Turkana Central, Turkana South and North Horr in Marsabit. The rates of acute malnutrition recorded in Turkana are very alarming and comparable to the rates recorded in the 2011 Horn of Africa crisis, with the highest GAM of 37% recorded in Turkana South.

  • Marsabit, Wajir, and Garissa counties also reported severe acute malnutrition (SAM) levels of 2.9%, 2.5%, and 1.5%, respectively. Marsabit - Laisamis and Marsabit North Horr subcounties reported SAM rates of 5.3% and 5%, respectively.

  • Currently, 420,674 children aged 6 to 59 months and 39,068 pregnant and breastfeeding mothers in Kenya require urgent treatment for acute malnutrition. More than 3.4million need urgent aid, up from 2.7million in January 2017.

  • The main factor behind the rise in drought-related malnutrition is a lack of household food supplies, including milk, low food stocks, and a rise in food prices.