The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) has said that the number of Nigerian adolescent girls and women aged 15-49 years who are undernourished had soared from 5.6 million in 2018 to 7.3 million in 2021.
UNICEF disclosed this in a report released on Tuesday, March 7, 2023 ahead of this year’s International Women’s Day.
The report titled, ‘Undernourished and Overlooked: A Global Nutrition Crisis in Adolescent Girls and Women,’ revealed that Nigeria was among the 12 hardest hit countries by the global food and nutrition crisis.
The 12 countries, including Afghanistan, Burkina Faso, Chad, Ethiopia, Kenya, Mali, Niger, Nigeria, Somalia, South Sudan, Sudan, and Yemen, represent the epicentre of a global nutrition crisis that had been increased by recent impacts of COVID-19 and exacerbated by the war in Ukraine and ongoing drought, conflict, and instability in some countries.
The report warned that the ongoing crises, aggravated by unending gender inequality, were deepening a nutrition crisis among adolescent girls and women that had already shown little improvement in the last two decades.
UNICEF Executive Director, Catherine Russell, while reacting to the report, noted that the nutrition crisis was pushing millions of mothers and their children into hunger and severe malnutrition. Also, “without urgent action from the international community, the consequences could last for generations to come.”
According to the report, an unprecedented and comprehensive look at the state of adolescent girls’ and women’s nutrition globally, more than one billion adolescent girls and women suffer from undernutrition (including underweight and short height), deficiencies in essential micronutrients, and anaemia, with devastating consequences for their lives and wellbeing.
“In Nigeria, 55 per cent of adolescent girls and women suffer from anaemia while nearly half of the Nigerian women of reproductive age do not consume the recommended diet of at least 5 out of 10 food groups (grains and tubers, pulses, nuts and seeds, dairy, meat, poultry and fish, eggs, dark green leafy vegetables, other vitamin A rich fruits and vegetables, other vegetables and other fruits), the 2022 National Food Consumption and Micronutrient Survey reveals.
“Inadequate nutrition during girls’ and women’s lives can lead to weakened immunity, poor cognitive development, and an increased risk of life-threatening complications – including during pregnancy and childbirth – risking mother’s lives, also, with dangerous and irreversible consequences for their children’s survival, growth, learning, and future earning capacity.
“For example, in Nigeria, 12 million children under five are stunted, meaning they are too short for their age due to malnutrition. Of those, about half become stunted during pregnancy and the first six months of life, the 500-day period when a child is fully dependent on maternal nutrition, according to a new analysis in the report,” the report from UNICEF read in part.
Russell added, “To prevent undernutrition in children, we must also address malnutrition in adolescent girls and women.”
According to the report, South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa remain the epicentre of the nutrition crisis among adolescent girls and women, home to two in three adolescent girls and women suffering from underweight globally, and three in five adolescent girls and women with anaemia.
Meanwhile, adolescent girls and women from the poorest households were twice as likely to suffer from underweight as those from the wealthiest households.
Global crises continue to disproportionately disrupt women’s access to nutritious food.
In 2021, there were 126 million more food-insecure women than men, compared to 49 million more in 2019, more than doubling the gender gap of food insecurity.
In Nigeria, the 2022 Cadre Harmonise analysis published by the government showed that 17 million Nigerians were suffering from acute food insecurity, and this was likely to increase to 25 million in the lean season this year.
Since 2022, UNICEF had scaled up its efforts in the countries hardest hit by the global nutrition crisis, including Nigeria.
The report called for governments, development and humanitarian partners and donors, civil society organisations, and development actors to transform food, health, and social protection systems for adolescent girls and women.
UNICEF Nigeria Country Representative, Cristian Munduate said, “To ensure a better future for our children, we must prioritise the access of adolescent girls and women to nutritious food and essential nutrition services.
“The nutrition crisis is deepening among them, and urgent action is needed from all partners including the government of Nigeria and the international community. We cannot afford to overlook this crisis, and we must work together to transform food, health, and social protection systems for adolescent girls and women.”