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World: Coronavirus threatens global surge in malnutrition, jeopardizing future of an extra 10 million children

© WFP/ Will Baxter, Somalia.

ROME – Coronavirus may push an additional 10 million of the world’s children into acute malnutrition. The United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) estimates that the number of young children suffering from this life-threatening form of undernutrition could increase by 20 percent as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.*

The virus can have a devastating effect on small bodies already weak from poor nutrition. At the same time, the pandemic is having a ruinous effect on vulnerable families relying on a daily wage or a remittance. COVID-related lockdowns and movement restrictions are severely undermining livelihoods, exacerbating existing threats like conflict and weak health systems, making it especially hard for families in poorer nations to afford a nutritious diet.

If we fail to act now, we’ll face devastating loss of life, health and productivity in future generations. Getting nutrition right today will determine whether the consequences of COVID-19 for children will be felt for months, years or even decades to come, says Lauren Landis, WFP’s Director of Nutrition.

This year’s Global Nutrition Report highlights the inequalities inherent in nutrition, with stunting and wasting being most prevalent amongst the poorest communities. Malnourished children, especially those under five years of age, are at risk of being among the primary victims of the pandemic and its socio-economic fallout.

Twenty-two million children under the age of five and pregnant and nursing mothers rely on WFP to provide them with specialised food and micronutrients for the prevention and treatment of malnutrition. WFP is working with governments to monitor populations vulnerable to COVID-19, adapting nutrition support where required. WFP is also working to ensure production of specialized nutritious foods is not disrupted by trade restrictions and is using its deep-field presence to pass information on COVID-19 to communities beyond the reach of fragile health systems.

WFP is ready to scale up its response to prevent and treat acute malnutrition and improve nutritious diets of children but urgently needs US$300 million to do so.

Acute malnutrition is caused by inadequate food consumption or illness, or both, resulting in sudden weight loss that, if untreated, can lead to death.

For an interview with WFP’s Director of Nutrition, email Ljubica: ljubica.vujadinovic@wfp.org

Nutrition-related content available:

* WFP projections indicate acute malnutrition in children under five could rise by 20% due to the socio-economic impacts of COVID-19 on food security. This number is a result of food insecurity alone. Impacts from the closure of health facilities will increase the rates even further.

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The United Nations World Food Programme is the world’s largest humanitarian organization, saving lives in emergencies, building prosperity and supporting a sustainable future for people recovering from conflict, disasters and the impact of climate change.

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For more information please contact (email address: firstname.lastname@wfp.org):

Isheeta Sumra, WFP/ Rome, Tel. +39 347 1814398

Bettina Luescher WFP/ Berlin, Mob. +49 160. 9926 1730
Elisabeth Byrs, WFP/ Geneva, Mob. +41 79 842 8057

Jane Howard, WFP/ London, Mob. +44 (0)796 8008 474
Shaza Moghraby, WFP/New York, Mob. + 1 929 289 9867

Steve Taravella, WFP/ Washington, Mob.  +1 202 770 5993