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.


Laura Heavey is an Irish paediatrician treating severely malnourished children in the volatile Borno State. Nearly 2 million people are displaced in north eastern Nigeria due to conflict between the Nigerian army and Boko Haram. A further estimated 5 million people are food insecure with around 450,000 children suffering severe acute malnutrition.

South Sudan

Conflict in South Sudan is having a profound effect on the local population.

Men, women and children are regularly forced to flee their homes to escape fighting and with little to no access to food, many are becoming malnourished.  In January, MSF teams in Dablual and Mirniyal in northern Mayendit country found that 25 percent of under-fives had global acute malnutrition and up to 8.1 percent of under-fives had severe acute malnutrition.


Chris Mc Aleer is working in Yemen, where more than 3 million people have fled their homes in search of safety and security. As a result of the intensified and prolonged conflict between Houthi rebels and a Saudi led government, it is estimated that 3.3 million children and pregnant or lactating women are acutely malnourished, including 462,000 under 5’s severely malnourished.

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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