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 > Food > Nutrition in emergencies
  • Emergency Assistance to vulnerable households in Darfur©FAO/Jose Cendon
  • A resident transporting a stalk of bananas©FAO/Prakash Singh
  • A woman taking a break from sweeping the floor of a warehouse©FAO/Ami Vitale

Nutrition in emergencies

Natural disasters such as floods, droughts and earthquakes or complex emergencies including armed conflicts and economic crises adversely affect the nutritional status of affected populations.

Although emergency and crisis situations vary widely in terms of type and cause, they share common characteristics: food production is halted and even simple harvesting is often no longer possible, access to adequate food becomes difficult, food preparation practices and food safety are compromised, household income is reduced, food distribution and marketing networks collapse, personal assets are sold to cope with hardship, and health care and sanitation services can break down.

Such disruption to normal life results in an increased vulnerability to food insecurity and to malnutrition. The ability to cope with such disruption differs, depending on structural factors and the socioeconomic, gender, and age characteristics of the population.

Assessing impacts and an understanding of the coping mechanisms and resilience of different affected social groups is required, in order to target, design and implement appropriate strategies to protect and promote good nutrition in times of crisis and food insecurity.

In emergency situations, nutrition interventions tend to focus on the treatment of acute malnutrition through therapeutic feeding and food aid. While these interventions are crucial for saving lives in the short term they do not address the underlying causes of malnutrition. Immediate assistance is required to help restore local food production and community access to safe and nutritious foods, while ensuring households have the knowledge and skills required to make optimal use of available food.

FAO advocates for food and agriculture-based approaches for safeguarding nutrition before, during and after emergency situations in order to complement and replace short term, “quick fix” responses. Food and agriculture-based responses including diversified food production, improving storage, diversifying livelihood strategies and nutrition education programmes should be designed, implemented and monitored using a nutrition lens within a Disaster Risk Management framework, to ensure that projects and programmes are designed, implemented and monitored with nutritional outcomes in mind.