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Nutrition and food security

Nutrition and food security

Ensuring that people have access to adequate nutrient-rich food and safe water is essential for protecting the safety, health and well-being of millions who have been forced to flee.

We strive to improve the nutritional status of the displaced wherever we can.

The right to freedom from hunger and malnutrition is also backed by international conventions, as are the highest standards of health and health care. 
WFP is distributing food to refugees from South Sudan in Kule 1 refugee camp

There is a clear link between nutrition and public health. Communicable diseases brought on in part by malnutrition are responsible for millions of preventable deaths each year. Mass population movements can result in high rates of malnutrition, sickness and death.

Shortage of food also makes people more vulnerable to sexual abuse and exploitation. Poor quality diets and vitamin and mineral deficiencies contribute to delayed childhood development, causing irreparable damage. Additionally, for those who live with chronic illnesses, such as HIV/AIDS, adequate nutrition is vital in maintaining the immune system.

At UNHCR, we work to improve nutrition through strategic funding, as well as partnerships with the World Food Programme (WFP) and others. We have also identified essential aid packages to boost services for populations in need, as well as training, standard guidelines, strategic plans and staffing practices.

We monitor the nutrition of people of concern through the Health Information System, regular surveys and nutrition-related databases.

Food Security

UNHCR and WFP have implemented multi-storey gardens (MSG) in refugee camps through its partners in Kenya since 2006 and Ethiopia beginning in 2008. These gardens are part of a food security strategy to support dietary diversity and enhance refugee contributions to their own food consumption. The MSG are particularly indicated for the dry and non-fertile areas where the refugee camps are located and where both the soil quality is not ideal for farming and water quantity inadequate. Issues of water harvesting, pest control, nutrition, meal planning, women's empowerment and the actual construction and maintenance of the multi-storey garden are addressed in training modules.

Infant Feeding

Natural disasters and emergencies have a devastating impact on people's lives. The effect on women can be particularly severe, both mentally and physically.

Some women may become malnourished, while others can lose the confidence or strength to breastfeed their infants. With support networks shattered, there may be even more demands on a mothers time to get food for her family, find shelter and plan for an increasingly insecure future.

Our teams at UNHCR work hard to ensure that children and their mothers receive nutrition and care in times of crisis.

Infant and Young Child Feeding Framework Introduction Video

The IYCF Framework: Three mothers and staff share their experiences

Nasrin and Asif

Nyathak and her Triplets

Anjuman and her Child

Staff Experiences of IYCF-E Framework


Micronutrient deficiencies represent a largely invisible but often crippling form of malnutrition, affecting birth and maternal outcomes and child development and learning potential.

Iron deficiency anaemia and vitamin A deficiency are amongst the most visible forms of micronutrient deficiencies in refugee populations, but these are just the tip of the iceberg and in reality the refugee populations often suffer from multiple micronutrient deficiencies.

The High Commissioner for Refugees has put a high priority on improving the nutritional status of refugee populations and decreasing the burden of anaemia and other micronutrient deficiencies.

Operational Guidance for the prevention of micronutrient deficiencies and malnutrition.