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Malnutrition could kill 153 children every day for the next two years because of COVID-19

The UK must recommit to tackling global hunger and nutrition before it’s too late

LONDON, 15 December: The COVID-19 pandemic has put the world on the brink of a nutrition crisis, Save the Children warned in a new report today, as malnutrition caused by the outbreak is projected to kill on average 153 children every single day over the next two years. With its excellent track record, the UK must play a leadership role in tackling global malnutrition.  

A COVID-19-induced spike in the number of global malnutrition cases could push an additional 9.3 million[i] children to suffer from wasting, a result of acute malnutrition that can lead to an immediate risk of death.

The impact of COVID-19 has led to an increase in poverty, a loss of livelihoods, and less access to health and nutrition services, pushing up hunger and malnutrition numbers. In its new report, Nutrition Critical, Save the Children said the pandemic could reverse years of progress made in the battle against malnutrition, with children in Asia and sub-Saharan Africa being hardest hit – especially those in poorer households or in conflict zones.

Even before the pandemic hit, many vulnerable communities struggled to provide children with enough healthy food, as one in three children under five were malnourished. Almost half of all of deaths among children under the age of five were linked to under-nutrition.

“Before Covid-19, the school fed us meals each school day, but now the school feeding programme has stopped. I hope it will start again soon,” 12-year-old Nassir*, a student in the Somali region of Ethiopia said.

The COVID-19 crisis threatens to worsen an already dire situation. The report Nutrition Critical includes new data from the Standing Together for Nutrition consortium (STfN), which predicts that, unless we act now, an additional 168,000 children could die of malnutrition by the end of 2022 – an average of 153 a day.

Michelle*, a nine-year-old girl in the Democratic Republic of Congo, told Save the Children about her one-year-old sister Gloria* who suffers from malnutrition. Michelle* takes her little sister to receive nutrition supplements while her parents work in the fields.

“My sister has become really skinny because we do not eat well. We only eat once in the morning, and in the evening, we go hungry,” she said. “I carry my sister on my back. I just wanted to do it for her to get healthy again. I would like to eat twice a day, in the morning and at night.”

Without action, millions more children will be at risk of suffering irreversible health damage due to a lack of nutritious foods, Save the Children warned. Vulnerable communities across the globe are already facing an extreme food emergency, as 11 million children under 5 are facing extreme hunger or starvation, including in five ‘hunger hotspots’ caused by conflict and the effects of climate change.

In Yemen alone, recent UN data shows that some 16.2 million people will be facing high levels of acute food shortages in early 2021 because of conflict and the COVID-19 outbreak. This includes 7.35 million children, with an estimated 21,338 children at risk of falling into famine.

Kevin Watkins, CEO of Save the Children UK, said:

“The COVID-19 crisis has triggered a surge in malnutrition among vulnerable children. There is now a real and present danger that rising malnutrition will drive an increase in preventable child deaths. It’s critical that national governments and the international community act decisively to prevent that outcome.

“The UK has a distinguished track record of leadership in combating global hunger. That record is now under threat. Reduced aid threatens to cut a lifeline for desperately vulnerable children in the midst of what is a global humanitarian emergency.

“We urge the UK Government to recommit to reaching 50 million women and children through nutrition programmes by 2025, backed by flexible and predictable financing. There is no greater cause than protecting children from the scarring effects of COVID-19. And there is no more effective route to preventing that scarring than early investment in nutrition.”


*Names changed to protect identities

Case study and stills from Democratic Republic of Congo available here:



  • To avert a nutrition crisis in the coming years, Save the Children urges governments and other organisations to take immediate action. This means:
  1. Including children in the decisions that impact them, including their health and nutrition.
  2. Ensuring financing, by making long term and flexible commitments to address malnutrition. 
  3. Preserving and scaling up critical food, nutrition, health, water, sanitation, hygiene and livelihood assistance.
  4. Prioritising humanitarian cash and voucher support for families to increase their household income.
  5. Urgently addressing malnutrition in fragile or conflict affected regions.
  6. Strengthening essential health and nutrition services.
  • Together with the Standing Together for Nutrition consortium, Save the Children emphasises that 2021 is a pivotal year for nutrition. The launch of its report coincides with a kick-off event for Nutrition for Growth 2021, convened by the Governments of Canada and Bangladesh, in partnership with the Government of Japan. The event will celebrate new policy and financing commitments to nutrition from a range of stakeholders and will formally launch a Nutrition For Growth Year of Action, that includes milestone events leading up to the Summit in Tokyo in late December 2021.
  • Methodology: The Standing Together for Nutrition (STfN) consortium modelled the economic impacts of the pandemic and correlated that with the impact a downward economy has on child and maternal malnutrition. This was matched with estimates on the disruptions to the delivery of nutrition services and assumptions on economic recovery in 2021 and 2022. Full methodology from STfN available upon request.

Spokespeople available in Kenya, Yemen, and the UK

For interviews contact

Bhanu Bhatnagar


+44 7467 096788




+44 7831 650409


[i] Data from Standing Together for Nutrition Consortium.