Nutrition, Food Security & Livelihoods
Nutrition is the foundation of life. Malnutrition, both chronic and acute, contributed to 5.3 million deaths of children under 5 in 2018—equal to about 45% of all deaths in that age group. Inadequate nutrition also carries enormous social and economic costs, leaving more than 165 million children with stunted growth, compromised cognitive development and poor physical health. Childhood malnutrition reduces an individual’s future earnings by at least 20% and robs some of the world’s poorest countries of at least 8% of GDP. The tragedy is that malnutrition is both preventable and treatable if tackled in time.
International Medical Corps’ approach to nutrition is holistic, and includes both the prevention and treatment of malnutrition. We work to strengthen nutrition programs at national, local and community levels in some of the world’s most challenging environments. Our prevention strategies focus on vulnerable groups, including adolescents, pregnant and nursing women and children under 2. Our curative strategies focus on children under 5, and pregnant and nursing women.
Our food security and livelihood programs help these vulnerable groups grow nutrient-rich foods and diversify their diets.
Areas of Focus
Nutrition is pivotal to life and growth. At no time is it more important than during the first 1,000 days of life—from conception until a child’s second birthday. Suboptimal nutrition during this window of opportunity deprives a child from reaching their full potential. It can cause impaired physical and cognitive development, and can lead to increased nutrition-related morbidity and mortality, increased risk of developing non-communicable diseases later in life and decreased IQ and school performance, resulting in lower life-time earnings.
In addition, malnutrition during childhood can have an effect on generations to come, because malnourished adolescent girls might be more likely to have a sub-optimal nutrition status during pregnancy, leading to low birth-weight babies, who in turn experience malnutrition during their childhood. Collectively, high levels of malnutrition among a country’s children can reduce its national gross domestic product. It is therefore important to break this intergenerational cycle of malnutrition with appropriate nutrition and food-security interventions.
Food security exists when people have access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food on a sustained basis that meets their dietary needs for an active and healthy life. This definition is best summarised in the four pillars necessary to achieve food security: availability, access, utilisation and stability. Food availability depends on local food production, imports, assistance, food stocks and what is available in markets. Access to food may be both economic (having the money to buy it) or physical (having reachable and unobstructed access). Utilisation is the nutritious benefit from the food consumed. The degree to which the body can absorb the nutrients depends on many factors, including age, health condition and the availability of potable water. Stability is a measure of how constant the three factors noted above remain, and how they can be influenced by risk factors to food security.
International Medical Corps’ food security programs are designed around two priorities: strengthening the ability of women to provide nutritious foods for their families and increasing access to nutritious foods.
A livelihood constitutes the ability to make a living. A livelihood is sustainable when it can survive the stress and shocks of the surrounding environment while not undermining the natural resource base.
International Medical Corps has long provided livelihoods assistance to enable communities to recover from disaster. In the face of conflict or natural disaster, vulnerable populations tend to deplete their wealth—including livestock, seeds and household goods—to survive and be able to pay for necessities such as food, medicine, clothing, education and essential services critical to living a healthy life.
Because of this, livelihood protection and promotion is central to International Medical Corps’ mission of supporting a swift recovery from disaster and strengthening local capacity to soften the impact of future shocks. We provide assistance that includes expanded temporary income-earning opportunities. To do this, we focus on rebuilding, expanding and diversifying the centers of wealth that communities draw on for their livelihoods.
Our approach includes skills training, cash grants, cash for work and the protection and replenishment of livestock. In cash-for-work programs, we often hire local health professionals to fill critical gaps. Local men and women work as community health workers, and local residents assist with post-disaster reconstruction and rehabilitation of key infrastructure. A critical part of our livelihood-support strategy involves providing skills-training to health professionals, unemployed youths and farmers, to boost their ability to earn income or produce the food they need to survive following a disaster.