Ensuring that people have access to adequate nutrient-rich food and safe water is essential for protecting the safety, health and wellbeing of millions who have been forced to flee.

Why nutrition matters

The right to freedom from hunger and malnutrition is backed by international conventions, as are the highest standards of health and healthcare.

UNHCR strives to improve the nutritional status of the displaced wherever it can.

Communicable diseases brought on in part by malnutrition are responsible for millions of preventable deaths each year. Mass population movements can result in high rates of malnutrition, sickness and death.

Poor quality diets and vitamin and mineral deficiencies contribute to delayed childhood development, causing irreparable damage. Additionally, for those who live with chronic illness, such as HIV/AIDS, adequate nutrition is vital in maintaining the immune system.

Somali refugee children at a malnutrition screening centre at the Buramino refugee camp in Dollo Ado near the Ethiopia-Somalia border © Australia for UNHCR

A Somali infant in Galkayo refugee camp in Ethiopia has her mid-upper arm circumference (MUAC) measured to screen for malnutrition. © Australia for UNHCR

What is UNHCR doing?

UNHCR works to improve nutrition through strategic funding, as well as partnerships with the World Food Programme (WFP) and others. It has also identified essential aid packages to boost services for populations in need, as well as training, standard guidelines, strategic plans and staffing practices.

It monitors the nutrition of people of concern through the Health Information System, regular surveys and nutrition-related databases. 

Conflict and displacement have a devastating impact on people’s lives. The effect on women can be particularly severe, both mentally and physically.

Some women may become malnourished, while others can lose the confidence or strength to breastfeed their infants. With support networks shattered, there may be even more demands on a mother's time to get food for her family, find shelter and plan for an increasingly insecure future.

UNHCR teams work hard to ensure that children and their mothers receive nutrition and care in times of crisis. A Somali infant is pictured having her mid-upper arm circumference (MUAC) measured to screen for malnutrition. Her tiny arm measures in the red zone, meaning she is acutely malnourished and will receive emergency nutrition.

"The happiest moment? When I see my son eating! To make sure he eats three times a day is the toughest task as a refugee mother." Arfa, mother to Ali. 

On the day Arfa (pictured) met UNHCR team member Eujin, she said she had given up her meal so her son Ali could eat. Eujin met Arfa while providing emergency nutrition to the thousands of South Sudanese forced to flee their homes and seek safety in the country's Upper Nile State.

Find out more about the South Sudan Emergency

"To make sure he eats three times a day is the toughest task as a refugee mother" says Arfa © UNHCR/Eujin Byun

Thanks to your kind donations to our African Food Crisis Appeal, we were able to provide emergency assistance, including vital nutrition, to those displaced.

UNHCR in action: African Food Crisis

In February, UN Secretary-General António Guterres sounded the alarm of a looming humanitarian catastrophe as famine was declared in parts of South Sudan while Nigeria, Somalia, Yemen and nine other countries teetered on the brink of famine.

An estimated 2 million refugees faced dire hunger as ongoing conflict and drought compounded severe food shortages.

Australia for UNHCR supporters responded generously to the emergency, raising an incredible $1.17 million for our Food Crisis Appeal.

These funds went towards ready-to-use therapeutic foods like Plumpy’Nut paste and fortified milk for malnourished refugee children, clean water and food assistance in refugee camps, as well as trained medical staff for treatment centres.

While the food insecurity situation remains critical, as a result of the immediate and sustained humanitarian efforts South Sudan is no longer in a state of famine.

UNHCR continues to work across the countries affected by food shortages, providing emergency food aid and healthcare to displaced people facing acute malnutrition.

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