Hunger rates are surging

  • Imagine trying to fight off famine, airstrikes and locusts — on top of COVID-19. Parents living in crisis zones are asking the same question: “How am I going to feed my children?”
  • In East Africa, swarms of locusts are devouring crops in seconds. Without immediate action, almost 5 million people could face starvation this summer.
  • In Syria, 9.3 million people are going to sleep hungry. They are living in crowded camps, acutely vulnerable to COVID-19.
  • In Yemen, 2.5 million malnourished children will lose nutrition support this summer because of a $1 billion shortfall in aid.
The IRC's groundbreaking approach to treating malnutrition


Malnutrition contributes to the deaths of approximately 3 million children under the age of five each year. Experts anticipate a rise in the number of malnourished children in 2020 as a result of COVID-19. The World Food Programme recently projected that the pandemic could double the number of people suffering acute hunger to more than a quarter of a billion by December 2020. And now, a historic locust outbreak threatens millions with starvation.

Why does treating malnutrition matter?

Poor nutrition is often life-threatening—but almost always avoidable. Treating malnutrition is one of the most effective ways to improve children's growth and development. But for millions of families in crisis-affected areas, critical health services and resources remain out of reach:

  • Over 50 million children are suffering from acute malnutrition, which is linked to almost half of all deaths of children under the age of five. The vast majority of these children do not have access to treatment.
  • Many mothers and children living in crisis zones lack access to nutrient-dense foods. For children, such micronutrient deficiencies can lead to night blindness, poor immunity to severe infections, and a restricted ability to grow and learn.
  • Nearly 20 percent of all child deaths can be prevented by optimal breastfeeding and complementary feeding. Supporting mothers to feed their infants is especially critical in crisis zones, where families have limited access to food, clean water and protection from illness.


What is the IRC approach to treating malnutrition?

Of the more than 50 million children who suffer from acute malnutrition every year, 75 percent don’t have access to treatment. Many have to walk for miles in search of health services with no guarantee of receiving help once they arrive. Even if treatment is available, few children are able to continue it until they successfully regain their health. These situations will only continue to worsen as conflict and crisis overtake countries in need.

The IRC has developed several new solutions for malnutrition that together offer the potential for transformative change:

1. Create a unified treatment programme.

There are currently two different treatments for children with severe acute malnutrition and children with moderate acute malnutrition, supported by two different United Nations agencies. This duplication creates inefficiencies, wastes critical resources, and makes it difficult for children to access the care they need.

The IRC believes the way forward is to create a combined and simplified treatment process—one that allows all children with acute malnutrition to be treated using a single programme. Our research, similar to other studies that have examined combined approaches to acute malnutrition treatment, found that it is effective to treat children with severe and moderate acute malnutrition together. This new, streamlined way of working offers the promise of stretching every pound for treatment further.

2. Bring treatment to children

Sick children need treatment right when and where they need it. Travelling to a health facility is not only difficult when a child is ill, but also impossible in many conflict-ridden countries—especially during the COVID-19 pandemic

Our solution is to bring treatment straight to children in their homes and communities, adapting our programmes to safely provide continuing care during the coronavirus crisis. We’ve already seen success with this approach in training local health workers to treat diseases like pneumonia or malaria.

We’ve also created simple and intuitive tools that community health workers can use to diagnose acute malnutrition. One example is a color-coded armband that anyone can use to measure upper-arm circumference.

3. Scale up funding and the political will to save lives

For lives the world over to truly be transformed, greater political will and funding are needed to reach every child who is suffering. We are calling on governments, policymakers and humanitarians around the globe to help ensure that these approaches are actually taken up, fully funded, and put into practice.    

We believe that by delivering care for acute malnutrition through this combined approach we can save the lives of nearly a million children over the next decade.

Read more about the IRC approach to treating malnutrition.

How is the IRC responding to locusts & COVID-19?

As countries already affected by conflict and crisis face the added challenges of COVID-19 and a the worst plague of locusts in generations, the IRC is supporting the health of children and families. These are just a few examples:

  • Delivering food and medicine to refugees and other vulnerable families while following heightened COVID-19 safety measures. 
  • Deploying mobile medical health teams to reach children and families in hard-to-access places. 
  • Providing children with malnutrition tests, a simplified treatment process, and follow-up.
  • Providing children nutritious, therapeutic foods like Plumpy’ Nut, a vitamin-packed, protein-rich paste that does not require preparation or medical supervision. 
  • Working in locust-affected regions to mitigate further damage, and reducing the risk of widespread famine.
  • Providing direct assistance to farmers and livestock herders impacted by locusts, and helping the most vulnerable who face a hunger crisis.


How can I help?

Please make an immediate donation to support our work. Your generous support can help us reach children and families at risk of starvation, while supporting IRC programmes in 40 countries worldwide.

By the numbers

These dire statistics will only worsen as violence and famine overtake countries in need.

50 million

children worldwide suffer from acute malnutrition every year.

Even if treatment is available, few children are able to continue it until they successfully regain their health.

Learn how the IRC helps


of children with acute malnutrition don’t have access to treatment.

of children with acute malnutrition don’t have access to treatment.

IRC community health workers are bringing treatment for acute malnutrition directly to children at home.

Watch one health worker's story


children in South Sudan are likely to suffer from acute malnutrition in 2019.

South Sudan, Somalia and Yemen are three of the countries where families and IRC health workers work together every day to combat malnutrition.

Go inside our work
When I heard that my child was feeling better and had even gained weight, I was so excited, and I showed my appreciation to the medical personnel. I was so excited, especially when I saw him smiling.
Mother and her son in North East Nigeria Malnutrition clinic
30-year-old Naima lost everything when the insurgencies happened in northeast Nigeria. Her family were left without enough food and her youngest child Hadi fell ill. Naima took her son to the IRC's mobile clinic where she was referred to the IRC’s stabilisation centre. Naima stayed at the centre with her son, caring for him in partnership with our trained staff, nursing him back to full health.
Her Story
Mother in North-East Nigeria