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/echo/file/eu-humanitarian-aid-combating-undernutrition_enEU Humanitarian Aid: Combating Undernutrition

Why is this important?

Undernutrition is the phsyical outcome of food insecurity and repeated infectious diseases. It is responsible for 45% of all deaths of children under five, amounting to 3.1 million preventable child deaths every year. It also causes irreversible impairment of growth and cognitive development for hundreds of millions more children. Around 70% of all undernourished children live in South Asia. Globally, some 51 million children under five suffer from acute undernutrition (wasting syndrome and kwashiorkor) which results in high mortality risk and vulnerability to diseases.

A crisis situation can significantly increase the prevalence of, and risks associated with, undernutrition, potentially leading to a surge in morbidity and mortality. Infants, young children, pregnant and lactating women and elderly people are especially vulnerable although other groups may also require assistance. The nutritional status is usually the result of more than one factor, therefore requiring a multi-sectoral response, in a joint humanitarian and development approach and resilience building.

How are we helping?

The EU funding allocated to nutrition programmes increased by 60% over last six years, representing €130 million in 2014. In-house nutrition expertise has also been reinforced in the past years: regional thematic experts in three regional support offices, a dedicated global expert, a Nutrition Working Group, all reflecting the increasing attention to the nutrition agenda paid by the European Commission.

The adoption of an EU policy on nutrition in March 2013 also demonstrates the increasing commitment of the EU towards nutrition. The Staff Working Document, developed by the European Commission's Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection department (ECHO), provides clear strategic priorities on the EU response to undernutrition in emergencies, as follows:

  • treatment of moderate and severe acute undernutrition;
  • tackling the immediate causes of undernutrition through nutrition, health, water and sanitation and food assistance interventions;
  • addressing micronutrient deficiencies.

The priorities are translated into concrete policies, such as: 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 moderate and severe acute 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.

The humanitarian and development aid services (DEVCO) of the European Commission work closely together to ensure joint humanitarian and development programming and hence coherence and complementary in the field of nutrition.

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