When you think of malnutrition, one often thinks of drought, poverty and an underdeveloped economy. But the violence of war also leads to severe malnutrition.

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Food crisis in Conflict 

People suddenly have to flee, their plot of land or cattle have been destroyed or stolen and the insecurity blocks people from going to the market. And if you're fleeing, you have to build up an existence starting from nothing. But how do you get a hold of food if you couldn’t take anything with you, if you cannot sow or harvest, or if you need to hide and can’t look for or buy food?

Care for malnutrition

Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) provides emergency care where it is needed most: where there is war and conflict, and where human lives are threatened by malnutrition, epidemics or a natural disaster. Our field workers invest their heart and soul in order to make a difference for people in need.


Nearly two million people have been displaced in north eastern Nigeria due to armed conflicts in the area. The situation remains highly volatile as armed factions known as Boko Haram stepped up their attacks. The displaced people struggle to get aid, with many children suffering from severe malnutrition. 


Widespread unemployment, restrictions on imports, and depreciation of the country’s currency caused by the intensified and prolonged war mean Yemenis struggle to access and afford even the most basic commodities like fuel, food, and medicine. Between March 2015 and December 2018, MSF treated 15,172 malnutrition cases.


From food scarcity to starvation

We distinguish different types of stages of food shortages: the 'hunger gap' (cyclical), food insecurity, food crisis and famine.

Hunger Gap

The 'hunger gap' is a temporary food shortage that has to do with the way people provide in their livelihood. Farmers who mainly live on the harvest of their country, have to deal with a shortage of food in the period between planting and harvest. 

Food Insecurity

Food insecurity means that people cannot get enough food for a balanced diet for a prolonged period of time. It can be influenced by an absence of food, or because food is unaffordable, but also because people may have no access to any food due to armed conflict in the area.

Food Crisis

If the situation worsens from being “food insecure” then the term ‘food crisis’ is used. The causes can be long or returning periods of drought, or – in contrast  - floodings, disease outbreaks amongst animals, or an economic crisis. People in conflict areas often have food shortages because they had to flee suddenly, or because their plots of land or cattle have been destroyed, or because insecurity prevents them from traveling. 


In general, the term famine is used when a large population group has an overall shortage of food for a long period of time. The environmental climate can have a major role in this situation such as droughts or floodings, but famine has become increasingly the result of war and conflict, an instable political and/or economic situation and the fact that people are forced to move. 

Our response to malnutrition

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