Addressing the acute malnutrition crisis in humanitarian settings: a SUN Movement call to action

March 20, 2024 - Last update: March 21, 2024

Reflecting on critical discussions held at the European Humanitarian Forum (EHF), the Scaling Up Nutrition (SUN) Movement underscores the urgent need to sustain and intensify efforts to combat the rise in acute malnutrition, particularly wasting among children, women, and other vulnerable populations in countries affected by humanitarian crises. 

The ongoing global food and nutrition crisis threatens to reverse significant progress made in reducing maternal and child malnutrition, particularly in fragile and conflict-affected areas.

Before the start of the global food and nutrition crisis in 2022, there were an estimated 47 million children suffering from wasting globally, 14 million of whom suffered from severe wasting. Since the start of the crisis, the number of children suffering from severe wasting in the 15 worst affected countries has increased at an unprecedented speed – one additional child with severe wasting every single minute. The ongoing conflict in Gaza indicates potential further increases in wasting rates.

Wasting in humanitarian contexts arises from a confluence of factors, including conflicts, natural disasters, and economic turmoil. These challenges disrupt food systems, hinder access to healthy diets and essential nutrition services, and impede proper healthcare, as well as safe water and adequate sanitation. Furthermore, they undermine recommended feeding practices for infants and young children, resulting in increased levels of acute malnutrition among children and other vulnerable groups.

However, child deaths from wasting are both predictable and preventable.

Preventive actions must be at the forefront of national efforts to mitigate wasting, necessitating the collaboration across health, food, social protection, and water and sanitation systems. Integrating the management of wasting within Primary Health Care (PHC) is crucial to quickly expanding and enhancing the coverage of interventions. These initiatives should be closely linked to national nutrition plans, national food systems pathways, and multi-sectoral stunting reduction strategies to amplify their impact.

The leadership and ownership of governments in preventing and treating child wasting are paramount in all settings—both developmental and humanitarian—and at all levels. While the SUN Movement has prioritized this in policy discussions, there is an urgent need for greater action to draw leaders' attention to the severe consequences of the lack of investment on wasting and the substantial benefits of investing in prevention and treatment.

In light of the challenges faced, the SUN Movement calls for the following urgent actions:

1. Integrate essential nutrition services into PHC to enhance the nutritional resilience of populations affected by crises.

This includes: 

  • Enhancing analysis of the determinants of child wasting to guide a well-integrated approach across health, food, social protection and water and sanitation systems
  • Ensuring essential maternal and child nutrition interventions for the early prevention, detection and treatment of child wasting
  • Increasing availability, affordability and access to healthy diets, including for young children and pregnant and breastfeeding women, supported by diversified food production.
  • When appropriate, introducing specialized nutritious food products (such as lipid-based nutrient supplements and fortified blended foods) to meet nutrient gaps.
  • Fostering a protective environment by ensuring joint nutrition, household food assistance (in-kind or cash) and water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) programming. 

2. Prioritize the nutrition of adolescent girls and women to improve their health and resilience and that of entire communities, and break the intergenerational cycle of malnutrition.

We urge all stakeholders to unite in embedding nutrition-focused solutions into humanitarian response efforts, acknowledging their critical role alongside gender and climate considerations in improving community health and resilience. Immediate action is necessary to halt the worsening trends of malnutrition and break the cycles of poverty, conflict, and humanitarian crises.


Advocacy Monitoring, evaluation, accountability and learning (MEAL)
Academia Civil society Donors Government Private sector United Nations