Some 149 million children — about one in five worldwide — are chronically malnourished. When not addressed, malnutrition puts children at greater risk of dying from common infections, increases the frequency and severity of such infections and delays recovery.
Acute food insecurity and malnutrition are at the highest levels they've ever been since the Global Network Against Food Crises began reporting on the issue in 2017. Conflict, extreme weather events, environmental disasters and economic turbulence are the key drivers.
Food crises and famine also cause displacement, which disrupts lives and interrupts childhoods. Some 10 million people have been displaced by food crises in Yemen, Somalia, South Sudan and northeast Nigeria alone in recent years.
The COVID-19 pandemic disrupted food systems and pushed millions of families into poverty, increasing food insecurity especially for already vulnerable children and families. Global coverage of nutrition services for children, adolescents and women in need also sharply declined, putting millions of children at risk.
Droughts exacerbated by climate change are another factor. West Africa’s Lake Chad has lost 90 percent of its water mass since 1963, for example, exacerbating hardships across the region. UNICEF works with partners to provide safe water, sanitation and hygiene services to communities where these basic resources are in short supply.
UNICEF procures 75 to 80 percent of the world's supply of Ready-to-Use Therapeutic Food, a treatment for children suffering from severe acute malnutrition, which can be deadly. UNICEF also leads global nutrition emergency preparedness and response efforts, coordinating interventions with its partners to reach the most vulnerable children and families in the hardest-to-reach areas. UNICEF also works with governments to strengthen local health and nutrition systems to reduce risks of malnutrition during a crisis.
Malnutrition is a "silent threat" to millions of children, says Manuel Fontaine, UNICEF Director of the Office of Emergency Programs. "The damage it does can be irreversible, robbing children of their mental and physical potential."
Learn more about UNICEF's nutrition programs.