There are 870 million (FAO 2012) undernourished people in the world, the majority of whom children. According to UNICEF every day nearly 19 000 children under five died of malnutrition in 2011.
The increasing frequency and intensity of natural and man-made disasters is a major factor in the rise of undernutrition. It affects young children and mothers in particular, increasing mortality and children's risk of disease. It hampers their full physical and cognitive development.
'Wasting' (severe acute malnutrition) is an extreme form of undernutrition in children, which results in them being too low in weight in proportion to their height. Globally, some 52 million children under 5 years suffer from severe acute malnutrition.
In 2012 alone, European Commission's Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection department (ECHO) provided €145 million to address undernutrition through projects implemented by its partners in the field. With this funding ECHO's assistance reached 8.4 million vulnerable people mostly children and pregnant and lactating women. This was done by meeting emergency nutrition needs and pursuing a multi-sectoral approach, seeking linkages with development actions where possible. ECHO's nutrition assistance includes for instance screening in emergency response situations, the provision of direct nutrition support and food either through enhanced products or buying it from local stocks through means of cash or vouchers.
A quick emergency response is needed as well as working with development partners to build the resilience of the most vulnerable communities. This is done by providing access to safe drinking water and sanitation facilities for families and communities; free access to health care for children and pregnant and lactating mothers; treatment of severe and moderate malnutrition through a community-based approach; organising information sessions on appropriate diet and feeding practices; and supporting households in restoring their livelihoods after a disaster.
Two major interventions in 2012 focused on the response to the Sahel crisis and continued support to the 2011 Horn of Africa food crisis. In the Sahel, 1.1 million children suffered from severe acute malnutrition in 2012. ECHO provided assistance to 200 000 of them.