Massive humanitarian crises are resulting from conflict, climate change and poverty, with millions of people at risk of starvation. Children are at greatest risk during times of extreme food insecurity and famine, and face greater risks of malnutrition or death. These crises can also have irreversible and lifelong consequences for children. This can lead to serious health and developmental challenges.
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Famine is often viewed as a lack or food. The crisis is not just about food insecurity. It also includes clean water, sanitation, and health care, including disease prevention and treatment. Water and sanitation are as vital as food for families and children facing food insecurity and famine. Here are four reasons:
1. Malnutrition and disease
Malnutrition can be made worse by unsafe water and sanitation. Manuel Fontaine, WE Director for Emergency Programmes, says that no matter how much food a child is eating, the water they drink will not make them feel better. Diarrhoea can be caused by unsafe water, which can lead to malnutrition. Children who are malnourished are more likely to contract waterborne diseases such as cholera. Global malnutrition is roughly 50% due to insufficient access to water, sanitation, and hygiene.
2. Climate change
Extreme weather events, such as droughts or floods, and climate change can cause water shortages. This can threaten both the quality of water and the quantity that communities depend on. Families in extreme water stress areas are forced from their homes as they compete for unsafe or scarce water sources. This increases their vulnerability to diseases and protects them against potential dangers.
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Over 1.42 billion people worldwide live in areas with high or very high water vulnerability, including 450million children. The worst drought in the Horn of Africa’s history has occurred in the last 40 years. Three consecutive dry seasons have displaced hundreds of thousands of people, decimated large swathes livestock and crops, and fueled malnutrition.
Famine is often caused by conflict, which can put pressure on food supplies and health systems. For example, the war in Ukraine has driven up fuel and food prices to places where children are already hungry. In armed conflicts, human dependence on water is often exploited. Water resources and systems that deliver water are under attack.
Nearly all conflict-related emergencies to which WE responded in recent years involved some type of attack on water access, either intentionally or incidentally. These disruptions can have devastating consequences for young children. Children under five years old are 20 times more likely than adults to die from diarrhoeal diseases caused by unsafe water and sanitation in prolonged conflicts than children who have been involved in violence.
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Children and their families are more at risk of abuse and health risks when fighting or drought forces them from their homes. Children often find themselves forced to drink unsafe water while on the move. Children who live in makeshift camps without proper sanitation become breeding grounds for diseases. Children who are already at risk are more likely to contract diseases and often cannot access health care facilities and hospitals as they flee. In the four countries that are under threat of famine, 9.2 million people have been forced to flee.
WE supports children and their families with immediate lifesaving measures and long-term resilience building. These include:
Partnering with other organizations to build resilience in communities that are highly or extremely vulnerable to water hazards, including groundwater extraction. The Horn of Africa could see at least 70 million children whose lives are affected by water insecurity transform their lives by drilling for reliable groundwater sources.
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Regional initiatives are a better way to find a long-term solution. Secure and sustainable water sources that are safe and can withstand the effects of climate change and that allow families to remain in their local communities where their children can access primary healthcare and schools.
Establishing early warning and monitoring systems. Information that is timely and alerts communities and governments to the rising risk of climate change and other hazards. This allows for immediate actions to prevent future crises.