Malnutrition as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic is increasing the risk of death among children worldwide: more than 150 additional children per day could die from malnutrition over the next two years unless action is taken quickly, our new report shows.

Millions of children are at risk of permanent health damage due to nutritional deficiencies. The Covid-19 pandemic threatens to undo many years of progress for child nutrition. 

Michelle (9), told Save the Children about her one-year-old sister Gloria, who gets only one meal a day and is malnourished. Every day, Michelle takes her sister to the health center to get treatment. Gloria's health has greatly improved thanks to our support.

If we do not act, Covid-19 will reverse the progress we've made so far

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168,000 children more could die from malnutrition by 2022 - an average of 153 additional children per day.

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9.3 million children more could suffer from wasting by 2022, resulting in emaciation and loss of strength.

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2.6 million children more could be affected by stunting i.e. they would not have developed according to their age.

Covid-19 and malnutrition: the problem

Great risk of malnutrition and poor access to health care

Malnutrition was already responsible for half of under-five deaths before the Covid-19 pandemic. One in three children under five was malnourished even before the pandemic, meaning they were not getting enough nutrients and calories needed for healthy growth – or too many calories and unhealthy food. Covid-19 made the situation worse within a few months. Growing poverty among families, as well as the loss of school meals, has meant that more and more children are not getting enough or too little nutrition. This increases the risk of disease, while at the same time access to health services has become more difficult.

Sub-Saharan Africa, Asia and regions with armed conflicts

Children in sub-Saharan Africa and Asia are particularly affected by this vicious circle of malnutrition and disease – especially in the most disadvantaged population groups and in crisis and conflict areas. According to UN figures, in Yemen alone, some 16.2 million people will face acute food shortages in early 2021, including 7.35 million children. 21,338 children are even at risk of hunger in Yemen.

To effectively address malnutrition, we must tackle it at its roots. Global conflicts must be ended, climate change must be tackled, communities must be made more resilient.

Gabriella Waaijman Director for humanitarian aid at Save the Children

Hunger driver Covid-19

As a result of the Corona pandemic, countless people around the world are losing their jobs, supply chains are disrupted, food and other essential goods are becoming scarce and thus often extremely expensive. As was recently the case in Lebanon and numerous African countries. More and more families can barely afford basic food.

This must happen:

It must be ensured that aid workers have unlimited access to children and their families. If we invest now, we can save many lives and children can grow up healthy and reach their potential.

Gabriella Waaijman Director for humanitarian aid at Save the Children

Malnutrition - problems, consequences and information:

To develop healthily, every person must eat the right amount of food and vital nutrients. This includes, for example, vegetables and fruits that contain vitamins and minerals, but also foods such as nuts, beans or oils that provide the body with fats or proteins. An unbalanced diet can make people more susceptible to diseases, hinder body growth, limit performance at school and work, and also lead to problems during pregnancy. Especially in the first years of life, malnutrition can have a fatal effect on children. Even if they survive, they often suffer physical and mental consequences throughout their lives. There is enough food in the world. Save the Children is committed to ensuring that no child dies because they do not have enough or not the right food. Here we answer some questions about hunger and malnutrition.

Malnutrition occurs in many forms:

Malnutrition means that a person consumes less energy over a longer period than they need to maintain their own body weight and develop healthily. Children in developing countries suffer from this form of malnutrition. The consequences can be growth disorders (stunting): children are too small for their age and suffer from delayed mental development, which can have a negative impact on school performance, for example. Those affected also frequently suffer from developmental delays (wasting), which manifests itself in emaciation and loss of strength. Often, underweight is accompanied by both stunting, wasting, or both.

Micronutrient deficiency means that a person does not consume enough nutrients such as minerals or vitamins. The undersupply of nutrients has as well a negative effect on the mental and physical development of children and adolescents. However, since the deficiency is often not directly visible, it is often also referred to as "hidden hunger". Often, children in poor families who do not have access to a balanced diet are particularly affected. However micronutrient deficiencies are widespread worldwide. Moreover, the deficiency does not necessarily have to be accompanied by malnutrition. People suffering from overeating can also be affected by micronutrient deficiencies.

Overeating means that a person consumes more energy than they need over a longer period of time. The consequences: Overweight and, in particularly bad cases, obesity. Incorrectly, overweight is still often equated with prosperity. Yet more and more poor people around the world are affected by it because they are more often dependent on cheap calories, which are often high in fat and sugar.

The term malnutrition is often mistakenly equated with hunger. When a person is starving, he receives less food than he actually needs. If the lack of food exists for a limited period, for example during droughts or wars, we speak of acute hunger. If people do not have access to enough food over a long period of time, we speak of chronic hunger.

Children suffer particularly badly from the consequences of malnutrition, as it permanently impairs their mental and physical development. Especially in the first 5 years of their lives, but also in their adolescence, it is important for their development to consume the right nutrients. Adults who suffered from malnutrition and growth disorders as children often have learning difficulties, earn 20 percent less in their later careers than non-affected adults, and are 30 percent more likely to experience poverty. Overall, 52 million children under the age of 5 suffer from developmental delays and 155 million from growth delays worldwide. In addition, 45 percent of all deaths of children under 5 are due to malnutrition.

The causes of malnutrition are multiple, complex and often closely intertwined. These include:

Inequalities and exclusion foster malnutrition. Around the world, malnutrition primarily affects people who are disadvantaged for a variety of reasons - for example, because of their financial situation, where they live or where they come from. Where a child lives determines whether local services, educational facilities or food are available to him or her. In addition, the place of residence determines cultural and social practices, income - and ultimately the nutritional situation. Malnutrition, for example, particularly affects children growing up in rural areas or in urban slums.

Poverty affects almost all aspects of life, such as access to education or health services, and is one of the main drivers of malnutrition. A family's financial situation almost always has an important impact on a child's nutrition. Low-income families often rely on low-cost, lower-quality, and less nutritious food. Children from low-income families are much more likely to suffer from growth and developmental problems. A large proportion of all children under age 5 who die from malnutrition come from low- and middle-income countries. And even within higher-income countries, children from poorer households are at much greater risk of dying from malnutrition than children from wealthier families.

Conflict is a significant driver of malnutrition. They are partly responsible for the fact that the number of hungry people has been on the rise again for several years. In 2018 alone, more than 250 million people worldwide suffered from acute hunger. In Yemen, approximately 85,000 children died from extreme hunger between April 2015 and October 2018 - far more than from bullets or bombs. More than three-quarters of the more than 150 million children who are not age-appropriate live in conflict zones. Conflict often leads to a breakdown in supply structures: crop failures accumulate, food cannot be delivered and becomes increasingly expensive. At the same time, humanitarian aid does not reach its target or meet people's needs.

The effects of climate change are becoming increasingly noticeable in the form of extreme weather events which have a rising impact on malnutrition. Increasingly frequent disasters often cause prolonged food instability. For example, while the Horn of Africa was affected by drought every 8 to 10 years in the past, the region now suffers from extreme and prolonged droughts much more frequently. Mozambique was hit by two cyclones in just six weeks in the first half of 2019. The destruction of local infrastructure, crop failures, water shortages and dying livestock that often accompany disasters are just some of the consequences that lead to acute and chronic hunger.

Report "Nutrition critical": Save the Children releases the report, which highlights why we all need to act now to prevent a rise in drastic child malnutrition. pdf - 3,27 MB

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