LIMA, Peru (AP) — The United Nations' child relief agency is warning that thousands of children in Peru are at risk of severe malnutrition as a result of floods and mudslides that have killed 106 people and left countless more homeless.
An estimated 15,000 children under the age of 2 living in the Andean nation's hardest hit regions don't have access to sufficient food, clean water and sanitary living conditions, UNICEF representative Maria Luisa Fornara said Wednesday.
"A child can rapidly become malnourished if they don't have needed food or do not eat," Fornara said.
A warming of Pacific Ocean waters along Peru's coast has generated a series of intense storms that officials are calling the worst environmental calamity to strike the nation in nearly two decades. Floods and mudslides have destroyed thousands of homes, crippled roads and bridges and ruined agricultural lands.
Along Peru's northern coast — the hardest hit region — families left homeless are living in shelters and tents. In those conditions, respiratory and intestinal ailments abound and children are "the first to get sick," Fornara said.
"They live in tents when there are tents and at night they start to get cold," she said.
Nationwide, nearly 15 percent of Peruvian children suffer from malnutrition. In many of the areas devastated by floods those numbers are even higher. In Piura, for example, 20 percent of children are considered malnourished.
"In an emergency situation, the situation is even more severe," Fornara said. "Children can fall into acute malnutrition, which is what we must prevent."
Peru's president estimates it will take $9 billion for the country to rebuild within five years. Humanitarian organizations are calling the international community to donate $38 million in humanitarian aid, including $8 million to combat malnutrition and provide assistance to children.
On Wednesday, Rolling Stones frontman Mick Jagger joined the plea for assistance, urging his followers on Twitter to support a fundraising effort to "help relieve the devastating effects of the floods in Peru."