May 31 (UPI) -- Severe acute malnutrition among young children in Haiti could more than double this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, rising levels of violence and other factors, UNICEF warned Monday.
Lack of access to proper nutrition services and clean water, unhygienic environments and extreme weather conditions exacerbated by climate change are also likely to play major roles in raising the number of severely malnourished children under five from 41,000 in 2020 to more than 86,000 this year, according to UNICEF Regional Director for Latin America and the Caribbean Jean Gough.
"In just one year, more than twice the number of children are expected to suffer from severe acute malnutrition in Haiti," he said in a statement released following a seven-day field trip to the impoverished Caribbean nation.
"In the hospitals, I was saddened to see so many children suffering from malnutrition," Gough said. "Some will not recover unless they receive treatment in time."
Acute malnutrition among children under five, meanwhile, has also skyrocketed in Haiti this year, jumping 61 percent from about 134,000 in 2020 to 217,000 this year, UNICEF estimated.
The sharp spike is "alarming" and has sparked concerns about a shortage of ready-to-use therapeutic food in the coming weeks, the United Nations agency said, warning it will run out of such supplies in June unless it can quickly raise $3 million.
For the entire year, UNICEF said it hopes to raise $48.9 million to meet the humanitarian needs of 1.5 million people in Haiti, including more than 700,000 children. So far, "this humanitarian appeal has remained almost completely underfunded," the agency said.
Adding to the pressure is the looming hurricane season, which it warned is likely to worsen Haitians' access to available food in the coming months.
Meanwhile, disruptions caused by the pandemic have led to sharp declines in child immunization rates for diseases such as diphtheria and measles -- such unvaccinated children are also more vulnerable to suffer and die from malnutrition, UNICEF said.