Mariama Lansanna, who is 35 years old, holds her baby Hawa, who is showing signs of malnutrition, while her middle upper arm circumference is measured at the health centre in Juru, near Kenema in Sierra Leone

“For countries reeling from the consequences of conflicts, disasters and climate change, COVID-19 has turned a nutrition crisis into an imminent catastrophe.” – UNICEF Executive Director Henrietta H. Fore


Nearly half of all deaths in children under age 5 are attributable to undernutrition 

Some 149 million children—about one in five worldwide—are chronically malnourished. Not addressed, malnutrition puts children at greater risk of dying from common infections, increases the frequency and severity of such infections, and delays recovery. 

According to a 2020-published report, humanity is seeing the highest level of acute food insecurity and malnutrition since the Global Network Against Food Crises began reporting on the issue in 2017. Key drivers to food and famine crises include conflict, extreme weather/environmental disasters and economic turbulence. Additionally, famine is driving displacement. Across Yemen, Somalia, South Sudan and north-east Nigeria alone, around 10 million people are displaced across the four famine-threatened countries. Learn how UNICEF is helping protect children on the move globally here.  

Factors of food crises

COVID-19 exacerbates poverty and thusly food insecurity, especially in already strained countries. With overburdened healthcare systems, disrupted food systems and income loss, children are not getting the nutrition they need. As a result of COVID-19, the global coverage of nutrition services to children, adolescents and women declined by nearly 40 percent and 6.7 million children will likely suffer from wasting and other forms of acute malnutrition. Further, malnourished children have weakened immune systems and may face a greater risk of dying from COVID-19. 

Climate change, extreme weather and population pressure caused West Africa’s Lake Chad to lose some 90 percent of its water mass since 1963. Droughts like this results in severe food insecurity and the depletion or contamination of water supplies. Learn how UNICEF is providing safe water, sanitation and hygiene services to communities here.

No child should die from starvation

UNICEF is the world’s largest supplier of ready-to-use therapeutic food, procuring between 75-80% of the world’s supply of this lifesaving malnutrition treatment. As the global leader in nutrition emergency preparedness and response, UNICEF convenes more than 40 partner members to support the coordination of lifesaving nutrition interventions in emergencies. UNICEF works to build communities’ resilience to disasters before they strike, strengthening government health and nutrition systems to reduce the risks of malnutrition in times of food insecurity and famine crisis from man-made and natural disasters.

"Malnutrition is a silent threat to millions of children," said UNICEF Director of the Office of Emergency Programmes Manuel Fontaine. "The damage it does can be irreversible, robbing children of their mental and physical potential. In its worst form, severe malnutrition can be deadly”. Unwavering in its commitment to children, even amidst a pandemic, UNICEF is pushing forward to deliver lifesaving assistance to the most vulnerable children and their families in the hardest to reach areas. 

Help save children’s lives by donating here. Just $55 can provide two-months’ worth of ready-to-use therapeutic food—enough to bring a severely malnourished child back to health.