The combination of severe food shortages and limited access to health care push people down the path towards acute malnutrition.

High risk of malnutrition in conflict zones as food prices soar

A statement from Dominik Stillhart, director of operations for the ICRC, on the severe hunger needs in many of the countries the ICRC works in.
News release 25 October 2021

Families in many countries around the world don't have enough food to feed their children, a sad reality in many locations we work. Our own ICRC data shows that food prices have more than doubled over the last year in Syria and Sudan, while they're up roughly 50 per cent in Ethiopia and Yemen – all countries battered by the effects of violence and armed conflict.

Conflict disrupts supply chains and shutters markets, cutting off supplies of food, fuel, medicines and essential goods. We always seek to remind the sides in a conflict that international humanitarian law (IHL) makes it clear that warring parties must ensure that populations under their control are able to meet their basic needs, including having enough food.

Access to health care is also a huge challenge during conflict. People who are sick or who have been wounded in the fighting must be able to access medical care.

The combination of severe food shortages and limited access to health care push people down the path toward acute malnutrition, especially young children and pregnant and breastfeeding mothers. Death from malnutrition is not inevitable if action is taken in time.

Earlier this month I saw firsthand the effects of conflict on families. On a trip to Somalia – a country that suffered a severe famine in 1992, when I first worked there – I saw how malnutrition remains endemic in too many places. It is deeply upsetting to see children who are not getting enough to eat as mothers and fathers struggle to put food on the table.

A healthy respect for IHL helps ensure food security. IHL protects objects indispensable to the survival of the civilian population, including crops, livestock and water installations and supplies. It also regulates the use of certain weapons, like anti-personnel mines, that can impede agricultural production.

In different regions of Ethiopia, many people report they can only afford one meal per day and the quality of that meal is poor. Food prices are rising at a time when many people's livelihoods are being heavily disrupted.

The more than seven years of conflict in Yemen have depleted the assets and savings of millions of families across the country, forcing them to reduce their food consumption considerably. More than 16 million people can't find or afford enough food in Yemen today, a number so horrible it's difficult to fathom. More than 3.2 million children and women are acutely malnourished.

In northern parts of Burkina Faso, we see families fleeing the region not because of the conflict, but in search of food, and we fear that certain areas in the north are facing severe shortages. Devastating floods this year in South Sudan have put families at risk of deep hunger.

Families battered by the effects of conflict want safety for their loved ones. They want to be able to access medical care when in need, and they want to put food on the table at mealtime. The ICRC carries out activities in many conflict zones to help residents help themselves by providing seeds for planting and veterinary care to livestock.

What can be done?

The ICRC calls on all sides to respect and promote the respect for IHL to ensure food security and prevent hunger.

We must also recognize and address the vulnerability of particular groups of people, like children under five years old, to food insecurity and malnutrition. And we must all invest in early and anticipatory action to enhance food security in conflict-affected areas by addressing points of disruption and drivers of risk across the entire food system.

For more information, please contact
Florian Seriex (French), ICRC Geneva,, Tel.: +41 79 574 06 36