Each year, nearly 3 million children under 5 years of age will die from malnutrition, making it the single largest cause of child deaths. Today, with spiraling conflicts around the world driving food insecurity; climate shocks destroying homes, crops, and livelihoods; and pandemic-era supply chain and economic disruptions driving up the cost of nutritious food, an acute malnutrition crisis is growing and threatening the lives of even more children worldwide.
Before the pandemic, progress on reducing preventable maternal and child deaths had stalled, largely due to inadequate investment. Globally, acute malnutrition in pregnant and breastfeeding women has risen by 25% since 2020. More than 30 million children currently suffer from acute malnutrition, with 8 million severely wasted and at highest immediate risk of death. UNICEF estimates the global food security crisis pushes another child into malnutrition each minute.
Nowhere is the crisis more evident than in the Horn of Africa, where climate change has caused an unprecedented drought, leaving more than 22 million people at risk of starvation and more than 5 million children acutely malnourished.
We know the most vulnerable – infants and young children, and pregnant and breastfeeding mothers – are bearing the brunt of this crisis. At no time is malnutrition more devastating than during the first thousand days, the critical period from pregnancy through a child’s second birthday. This period constitutes a crucial window of opportunity when proper nutrition sets the foundation for a lifetime of health and well-being. But poor or inadequate nutrition during this time creates devastating consequences.
Malnutrition in infants and young children damages their immune system and greatly increases their risk of death from diarrhea or disease. Among those who survive, malnutrition irreversibly damages the child’s physical and cognitive development, diminishing their hope for a healthy, productive future. At Food for the Hungry (FH), we are moved by this injustice and motivated to fight malnutrition across the 3,500 communities where we work.
Food for the Hungry works in many of the so-called Hunger Hotspots – fragile countries such as Ethiopia, Haiti, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, where weak health, food, and agriculture systems combine with limited social protections to create indescribable suffering, including staggering rates of hunger and malnutrition. Through deep relationships within these communities, FH is working in some of the most challenging contexts to co-create innovative and sustainable solutions. The goal is to build resilience within these communities, so that all members can live full, flourishing lives.
This effort starts with ensuring that the most vulnerable – women and children – receive the proper nutrition necessary to thrive.
FH is energized and encouraged by the fact that proven solutions to combat malnutrition exist. Research has shown that prioritizing prenatal vitamins for all pregnant women, providing breastfeeding support to mothers and vitamin A supplementation to children, and utilizing community-based approaches to screen and refer for treatment those children who currently suffer from malnutrition significantly reduces child mortality. These actions can ensure that the world’s most vulnerable children not only survive, but flourish.
By incorporating these interventions as part of a holistic, multi-sectoral approach that includes improvements to water, sanitation, and hygiene in tandem with agriculture and livelihoods support, FH is honored to partner with communities challenged by poverty, marginalization, and injustice to build a foundation for long-term health, resilience, and hope.
Working with women like Robe Sharamo (pictured above), a 43-year-old mother of five living in arid Marsabit County, Kenya, FH is helping educate women on optimal infant and young child feeding practices, engaging caregivers in cooking demonstrations, and increasing access to locally available and affordable nutritious foods that prevent and address malnutrition. FH is also working to support and empower women like Robe to breastfeed, screening for malnutrition, and sharing information and guidance on water, sanitation, and hygiene practices that will protect her family’s healthy growth and development.
THE FARM BILL:
As the current global food and nutrition crisis illustrates, building resilience against shocks and stresses such as water scarcity, drought, natural disasters, food and fuel price fluctuations, and climate change has never been more important. This year’s reauthorization of the Farm Bill offers a chance to accomplish that. The Farm Bill, which is reauthorized by the U.S. Congress every five years, provides an important opportunity to support and strengthen critical international food aid programs, particularly Food for Peace, Title II. By educating lawmakers on the current malnutrition crisis, FH and partners demonstrate the need for robust investments in emergency programs that save lives now, as well as those non-emergency programs specifically designed to build resilience to future food and nutrition crises.
Through Title II emergency programs, FH is working in places including Ethiopia to meet urgent humanitarian needs. This includes addressing acute malnutrition and hunger through the provision and distribution of U.S. commodities and lifesaving nutrition screenings, referrals, and treatment. With funding from USAID’s International Food Relief Partnership (IFRP), a Title II-funded non-emergency program, FH is working with communities in the Western Highlands of Guatemala to build food security and improve the nutritional status of vulnerable individuals and families.
FH supports development of home gardens to diversify diets, provides hands-on training and cooking demonstrations with locally available and affordable ingredients, and provides specialized U.S. commodities that alleviate hunger and address vitamin and nutrient deficiencies. In Ethiopia, FH is implementing a Title II-funded Resilience Food Security Activity (RFSA), a multi-year program designed to transition communities away from emergency food aid and toward food and nutrition security. By identifying complex risks and reducing chronic vulnerabilities, FH is working to foster comprehensive, creative, and sustainable solutions to create resilient individuals, families, and systems.
These crucial investments address hunger and malnutrition in the short term, while also building long-term food and nutrition security by equipping families with the agency and resources necessary to diversify their diets, improve their nutritional status, and build health and hope. As an organization seeking to “uphold the cause of the oppressed and give food to the hungry” (Psalm 146:7), FH remains steadfast in our commitment to fight malnutrition and motivated to help every child realize a full, flourishing future.
Kristen Callaway is FH’s Public Policy & Advocacy Advisor. She has a decade of experience working in public policy to advance the fight against global poverty and injustice and advocating for the most vulnerable. Kristen and her husband are the proud parents of a two-year-old son.