(by Sofia Gallarate)
FLORENCE, NOVEMBER 20 – Since the shutting of Yemen’s ports, airs, and lands has been ordered by the Saudi-led coalition, the country’s humanitarian crisis risks getting even worse: the famine that is already affecting Yemen could deteriorate, impacting on the population for years to come. Such a catastrophic possibility made even more urgent for NGOs and international organizations to be able to confront the long-term consequences of a crisis of this magnitude. Last October, UNICEF Innocenti – Unicef’s global research center for children based in Florence – hosted a two-day workshop to discuss the lack of knowledge regarding the health risks that adolescents face after living through humanitarian and natural disasters, and what can be done to tackle them.
The roundtable was organized by UNICEF Innocenti’s Social Policy Chief Jose Cuesta, after the realization that while there is a relevant number of researches regarding the vulnerability of young children, there’s a lack of investigations over the consequences of undernourishment and stunting over vulnerable teenagers. As stated by Laurence Chandy, Director of UNICEF’s division of data, research and policy, “Traditionally, this idea that we should be focusing on the very early years – because that signifies the greatest vulnerability – might not be right, so I can see significant implications for our programming.”
The impact that undernourishment has over the lives of children that grow up through famines have been extensively researched in the attempt to find effective solutions to this destructive phenomenon. While infants health risks have been indeed acknowledged and worked upon, a recent research published by UNICEF revealed some shocking forecasts about adolescents living through a humanitarian crisis, and how in fact, they are the ones whose growth and health are more at risk during periods of crisis. Graphs have shown that stunting doesn’t only impact infants, but teenagers too: unexpected physical growth decline – a phenomenon that can have terrible consequences on the physical and mental well-being of people – have affected adolescents to an extent that wasn’t fully grasped until now.
With numerous studies proving that devastating famines will hit countries such as South Sudan, Somalia, Yemen and Nigeria in the upcoming years, UNICEF has set as a priority in their agenda to update their programming according to the new discoveries that highlight the threats that teenagers face during humanitarian and environmental disasters.
Among the economists, the researchers, and the UNICEF nutritionists invited to the two-day event in Florence, there were Stephen Devereux, a Fellow at the Institute of Development Studies and Richard Akresh, known for the groundbreaking study on first and second-generation impacts of the Biafran War. With the lack of evidences being the main limit to the development of a strategic programming for adolescents at risk, to gather together different professionals and their opinions on the subject, was the first step to build up an extensive research that will eventually become crucial for further interventions.
Despite being just an early step of the process to address adolescents’ health and growth risks, the workshop has already highlighted some of the main points that will need to be worked on. According to the team, the need for a mixed-methods research approach and the improvement of data collection are the main objectives that will need to be addressed in the upcoming future.
According to UNICEF’s Cuesta, the workshop can have a fundamental impact on how they could develop new strategies: “We can improve our methodology, we can also improve our data collection, and we can improve how we evaluate specifically for adolescents. The idea is to reflect on these different possibilities and come up with a collective strategy.”