Malnutrition threatens millions of displaced people

Populations across Africa and neighbouring Yemen are facing entrenched conflict and drought, leaving agriculture devastated. Millions are now threatened by acute malnutrition.

UNHCR is delivering emergency nutrition and protection to displaced families in every country across the food crisis zone. This includes South Sudan’s Unity State, where famine has been declared, and countries on the brink of famine - Yemen, Somalia and north-eastern Nigeria. Severe food shortages are also threatening refugee populations in Cameroon, Chad, Kenya, Mauritania, Sudan, Uganda, Burkina Faso, Djibouti, Burundi and Ethiopia.

The majority of those affected are women and children. Thousands are fleeing every day, often walking for days or weeks, and arriving at UNHCR settlements exhausted and malnourished.

Australia for UNHCR is appealing for donations to support therapeutic feeding programmes, emergency nutrition and clean water infrastructure for those at risk. Without these urgent interventions, food rations for refugees will be further depleted and child mortality will rise.

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A Somali infant has her upper arm circumference measured to screen for malnutrition

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Mothers and babies receive emergency nutrition in a stabilisation centre in South Sudan

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"To make sure he eats three times a day is the toughest task as a refugee mother" says Arfa

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Shamha, a displaced Yemeni child, is recovering from malnutrition with the help of UNHCR

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Providing Food 

Malnutrition is a common consequence of conflict and displacement. UNHCR works with the World Food Programme (WFP) to ensure that all refugees have access to adequate nutrient-rich food. UNHCR assists with the distribution of food rations in camps and provide urban refugees with vouchers and cash assistance for the purchase of food and groceries. In acute situations, UNHCR supports emergency nutrition and therapeutic feeding programs, supplying fortified milks and ready-to-use therapeutic foods.

Providing Water

When people flee their homes, they often struggle to safely and easily access adequate water, sanitation and hygiene facilities, endangering their health. UNHCR provides extensive infrastructure in refugee camps – wells, pumps, tap-stands and latrines – to meet refugees’ water needs and prevent disease. The water containers we provide as part of our basic survival kit enable displaced families to fetch and store clean water.


Registration is central to UNHCR’s work. The number of people requiring protection and assistance determines the quantities of food, water and other material assistance needed, as well as the extent of shelter, health and sanitation facilities. Registration is important for identifying individuals who are at risk or have special needs, allowing them to access to vital services.

Providing Protection

Children and families fleeing violence, war, disaster or persecution can be very vulnerable. UNHCR supplies displaced people with essential items, food and shelter to protect them from having to make dangerous decisions to survive. On a larger scale, UNHCR negotiates safe passage, asylum spaces and humanitarian access, upholding the rights of refugees and minimising the threat of violence, including sexual assault.

Providing Supplies

UNHCR distributes life-sustaining items such as mattresses, blankets, kitchen sets, jerry cans, stoves and fuel, soap and other sanitary items to refugees under its care. These supplies are tailored to the specific needs of the refugee population: for example, winterisation kits are distributed in camps and communities where sub-zero temperatures occur. UNHCR maintains global stockpiles of core relief items for immediate delivery in emergency situations.

Get the latest facts on nutrition and food security

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