HomeIdeaWar in Ukraine and child malnutrition

War in Ukraine and child malnutrition

The war in Ukraine is drastically affecting global food security, already strongly destabilized by the consequences deriving from the health emergency from Covid-19, by the environmental catastrophes caused by the climate change, as well as the persistence of some historical conflicts in various parts of the world, Syria and Yemen, primarily.

Even before the Russian invasion, global food prices had reached historic highs. With the start of the war, the cost of all raw materials in March alone increased further by about 12,6%, compared to February 2022.

War in Ukraine, increases in food and energy prices

After over two months of conflict, the FAO (the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations) reports that food prices are 34% higher than the same period last year and that they have reached an all-time high since the index was established in 1990.

According to Ayhan Kose, Director of Prospects Group of the World Bank, 'commodity markets are experiencing one of the biggest supply shocks in decades due to the war in Ukraine. The resulting rise in food and energy prices is taking a significant human and economic toll and is likely to block progress in poverty reduction. Rising commodity prices will exacerbate already high inflationary pressures around the world'. (1)

Conflict and agricultural production

Russia and Ukraine they are among the largest commodity exporting nations in the world and have control of agricultural products, natural gas, oil and metals. Together they provide 30 percent of the world's wheat and barley, one fifth of corn and over half of sunflower oil.

With the start of the war, planting, harvesting and exporting were disrupted by lack of fertilizer, shortage or absence of fuel supplies, port closures and military activity.

At least a third of the land normally used for spring crops, such as corn and sunflower, is in danger of not being sown. Furthermore, about 40% of the wheat sown last fall could be lost, being in regions devastated by the ongoing conflict.

Also the supply global fertilizer is bound to suffer from the impact. About 10% of nitrogen production and phosphate exports come from Russia / Ukraine, and nearly 31% of global potash capacity is in Belarus / Russia.

Natural gas

The prices of gas and energy in Europe they have undergone new increases, since mid-February they have risen by more than 120%. Russia supplies 30% -40% of the continent's gas, and natural gas accounts for 20% of Europe's total energy needs.

It is estimated that in 2022 European gas prices will be twice as high as in 2021, while coal prices will rise by 80%. Prices at an all-time high.


According to the World Bank, in 2022 due to the war-related trade and production blocks in Ukraine, the price of Brent crude oil could reach an average of 100 dollars a barrel, the highest level since 2013, with an increase of more than 40% compared to 2021.

Consequences on food safety

The current crisis it could have devastating effects on the global economy e on business recovery, both already severely slowed by the pandemic.

To pay the price the most vulnerable communities, in particular young women and children, who depend on the supplies of wheat and raw materials from the two countries in conflict, will be especially affected by this dramatic situation.

The situation it is already particularly serious in the Horn of Africa, in countries such as Ethiopia, Kenya and Somalia. Millions of people are struggling against the macroeconomic impact of the Covid-19 pandemic, as well as the invasion of locusts, the worst in 70 years, which has destroyed crops in all regions, already affected by a devastating drought. which exacerbated food and water shortages.

Last week, the World Food Program announced that in 2022, more than 20 million people living in the Horn of Africa could suffer from hunger, due to the combined effects of the war in Ukraine and the contingent socio-environmental problems.

Potential permanent impacts on children

Lo Standing together for nutrition consortium estimates that by 2022 there could be as many as 13,6 million more wasted children and another 141 million people, adding to the 3 billion people who already could not afford a healthy diet in 2019. (2)

The poorest families they are addressing rising prices by switching to cheaper and less nutritious foods, resulting in the risk of life-threatening forms of malnutrition, including wasting, reduced physical growth and cognitive development.

Dr. Zulfiqar Bhutta, co-director of the Center for Global Child Health, The Hospital for Sick in Toronto, recently stated that: 'In view of the enormous adverse exposures during pregnancy and early childhood, some of the consequences on children will be felt in the years to come; impacts on fetal growth, perinatal and early childhood nutrition are likely to have long-term consequences for human health and development that far exceed anything currently visible'. (3)

Urgent actions

I leader world of nutrition of Standing Together for Nutrition (ST4N), a multidisciplinary consortium of over 35 experts in nutrition, economics, food and health systems, and the movement Scaling Up Nutrition (SUN), which supports the nutritional goals of 65 SUN countries, believe that governments need to take the following actions immediately:

- reduce unnecessary trade restrictions and home hoarding to allow greater accessibility of essential nutritious foods,
- protect the most vulnerable with safety net programs, such as food stamps aimed at improving nutrition,
- national nutritional balances should be delimited to continue to provide essential nutritional support, including nutritional services for women and children, particularly during pregnancy and the first 1.000 days of life,
- honor their financial commitments for nutrition and refrain from reallocating i budget,
- invest more in more robust data monitoring systems to better target interventions,
- implement the use of resources for humanitarian assistance to address both increasing hunger and malnutrition. (4,5)

Also, to prevent a crisis of malnutrition and the resulting intergenerational losses in future productivity and human capital, immediate investment, innovative financial schemes and actions from all governments, donors, the United Nations and political support from the global G7 forums will be needed. and the G20.

Resilience and sustainability of food systems as a guarantee for the future

The current scenario is showing the extreme vulnerability of a globalized food system unable to guarantee the principles of security and safety food and confirms the need to adopt, as soon as possible, a strategy that accelerates the transition of the agri-food system towards the issues of resilience and sustainability.

Resilience understood as a progressive decrease in the dependence of European agriculture on imports from third countries and as the identification of diversified import sources and market outlets, through a solid multilateral and bilateral trade policy.

For a future resilient towards full food self-sufficiency, it will also be necessary to implement measures that shorten the production chain, bringing the producer closer to the consumer, through renewed attention to the local territory.

Sustainability food understood as economic and social security of availability of food supplies (food security) and as a health and hygiene safety of the same (food safety) will have to involve more and more innovation to help increase yields in a sustainable way, such as precision farming, new genomic techniques, better nutrient management, integrated pest management and biological alternatives to chemical pesticides.

It's never too late to save a generation of children from the devastating effects of malnutrition and guarantee them a better future.

Elena Bosani

Cover image from World Food Program (WFP). Global Report on Food Crises - 2022. 4.5.22


(1) M. Ayhan Kose (worldbank.org), https://www.worldbank.org/en/about/people/m/m-ayhan-kose
(2) Standing Together for Nutrition (ST4N), https://www.standingtogetherfornutrition.org
(3) Standing Together for Nutrition (ST4N) (healthdata.org), https://www.healthdata.org/about/zulfiqar-bhutta
(4) Standing Together for Nutrition - Micronutrient Forum, https://micronutrientforum.org/standing-together-for-nutrition-2/
(5) Working together in the fight against malnutrition in all its forms (scalingupnutrition.org), https://scalingupnutrition.org

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