The world is a ‘virtual powder keg’ for catastrophic levels of severe malnutrition in children

“Even before the war Ukraine strained global food security, conflict, climate shocks and COVID-19 were already taking their toll on families’ ability to feed their children,” said the UNICEF Executive Director. Catherine Russell. “The world is rapidly becoming a virtual powder keg of preventable child deaths and children suffering from wasting.”

Currently, at least 10 million severely wasted children – or 2 out of 3 – do not have access to the most effective treatment for wasting, ready-to-use therapeutic foods (RUTF). UNICEF warns that a combination of global shocks to food security around the world – led by war in Ukraineeconomies struggling with pandemic recovery and persistent drought conditions in some countries due to climate change – are creating the conditions for a significant increase in global levels of severe wasting.

Meanwhile, the price of ready-to-use therapeutic food is expected to increase by up to 16% over the next six months due to a sharp rise in the cost of raw materials. This could leave up to 600,000 more children without access to life-saving treatment at current spending levels. Shipping and delivery costs are also expected to remain high.

“For millions of children each year, these therapeutic paste sachets are the difference between life and death. A 16% price increase may seem manageable in the context of global food markets, but at the end of that chain “supply is a desperately malnourished child, for whom the stakes are not at all manageable,” Russell said.

Severe wasting – when children are too thin for their height, resulting in a weakened immune system – is the most immediate, visible and deadly form of malnutrition. Worldwide, at least 13.6 million children under the age of five suffer from severe wasting, resulting in 1 in 5 deaths in this age group.

South Asia remains the “epicenter” of severe wasting, where approximately 1 in 22 children suffer from severe wasting, three times more than sub-Saharan Africa. And in the rest of the world, countries face historically high rates of severe wasting. In Afghanistanfor example, 1.1 million children are expected to suffer from severe wasting this year, nearly double the number in 2018. Horn of Africa means that the number of children suffering from severe wasting could rapidly increase from 1.7 million to 2 million, while a 26% increase is expected in the Sahel compared to 2018.

The Child Alert also notes that even countries with relative stability, such as Uganda, have seen a 40% or more increase in child wasting since 2016, due to increased household poverty and food insecurity, leading to inadequate diet quality and frequency children and pregnant women. Climate-related shocks, including severe cyclical droughts and insufficient access to clean water and sanitation services, are contributing to the rising numbers.

The report goes on to warn that aid to waste remains woefully low and is expected to decline sharply in coming years, with little hope of returning to pre-pandemic levels until 2028. According to new analysis for the dossier, the Global aid spent on wasting accounts for only 2.8% of total ODA (official development assistance) to the health sector and 0.2% of total ODA expenditure.

To reach every child with life-saving treatment for severe wasting, UNICEF calls for:

  • Governments must increase aid to wasting by at least 59% over 2019 ODA levels to help reach all children in need of treatment in 23 high-burden countries.
  • Countries must include treatment of child wasting in long-term health and development funding programs so that all children can benefit from treatment programs, not just those living in humanitarian settings.
  • Ensure that budget allocations to address the global hunger crisis include specific allocations for therapeutic feeding interventions to meet the immediate needs of children suffering from severe wasting.
  • Donors and civil society organizations must prioritize wasteful funding to ensure a diverse, growing and healthy ecosystem of donor support.

“There is simply no reason for a child to suffer from severe wasting – not when we have the capacity to prevent it. But there is little time left to reinvigorate a global effort to prevent, detect and treat wasting. malnutrition before a bad situation becomes too bad, much worse,” Russell said.

“Millions of children around the world suffer from severe wasting, the most immediate, visible and deadliest form of malnutrition. The triple threat of COVID-19, climate change and conflict is increasing cases of severe wasting affecting millions of children worldwide The conflict in Ukraine is about to plunge the world into an even deeper nutrition and food crisis, with children paying the ultimate price. But the good news is that we already have the knowledge and the tools to make a lasting difference between life and death for the world’s most vulnerable children. Canada, as a global leader, must build on its commitments and address the growing malnutrition crisis, including by supporting the prevention, detection and treatment of malnutrition and wasting. Canadian leadership on the world stage will help save lives. Now is the time to act.” – David MorleyPresident and CEO, UNICEF Canada

Notes to Editors

About RUTFs
Ready-to-Use Therapeutic Food (RUTF) Paste is a lipid-based, high-energy-dense micronutrient paste, using a mixture of peanuts, sugar, oil and powdered milk, packaged in individual sachets. UNICEF, the world’s leading supplier of RUTF, procures and distributes approximately 75-80% of the global supply from more than 20 manufacturers located around the world.

About ODA
Official development assistance (ODA) is government assistance that specifically promotes and targets the economic development and well-being of developing countries. The Development Assistance Committee (DAC) of the Economic Cooperation Organization (OECD) adopted ODA as its main instrument of foreign aid in 1969 and it remains the main source of funding for development assistance. ODA data is collected, verified and made available to the public by the OECD.

UNICEF is the world’s leading child-focused humanitarian organization. We work in the most difficult areas to provide protection, health care and vaccinations, education, clean water, sanitation and nutrition. As a member of the United Nations, our unparalleled reach spans over 190 countries and territories, ensuring we are on the ground to help the most disadvantaged children. Although part of the United Nations system, UNICEF depends entirely on voluntary donations to fund its life-saving work. Please visit and follow us on Twitter, Facebook and instagram.


For further information: Laurence Bodjrenou, UNICEF Canada, Tel. : 514-232-4510, [email protected]

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