By: Tigist Gizachew, Compassion Ethiopia Photojournalist   |   Posted: July 12, 2022

Malnutrition damages children’s growth, learning and development. Compassion and local church partners are doing everything possible to give children in poverty and their families resources and opportunities to thrive.

How the Global Food Crisis Is Impacting Children

Malnutrition damages children’s growth, learning and development. Compassion and local church partners are doing everything possible to give children in poverty and their families resources and opportunities to thrive.

Written by Tigist Gizachew, Compassion Ethiopia Photojournalist
a boy stands in the desert

Single mother Abiyot wiped tears from her eyes. In the dim moonlight, she could just make out the forms of her six children. Even when surrounded by all these children, she ached for the three who were missing — the three she had to give away because she was unable to provide for them.

The pandemic decimated this single mother's financial situation. “My heart was broken when the school closed, and my part-time employers told me they don’t need my help anymore because of the virus. Every door was shut on my face,” said Abiyot.

The mother, who worked as a school cook, suddenly found herself at home with no income to care for her six children. It was not just her work that came to an abrupt stop but also the breakfast and lunches her children used to depend upon through the government’s school feeding program.

“Even while I was working and my children were getting meals at school, I still struggled to feed them during weekends. I used to take leftover food from school for the weekend. My husband abandoned us and remarried. I know how to take care of my children by myself if only I could work,” she said.

Unfortunately, Abiyot’s story is not unique. Many families faced hunger and food shortages during the pandemic, and now, with the global food crisis, things are even worse.

Before the COVID-19 pandemic, 135 million people were food insecure, meaning they did not have consistent access to food. According to the United Nations, that number has doubled in two years to 276 million.

The war between Russia and Ukraine has only worsened the crisis that the pandemic began. These two countries are responsible for supplying almost 30% of the world’s wheat and a large amount of global fertilizer. As the conflict continues, low-income households will increasingly deal with the effects of rising inflation and impacts of food insecurity, including malnutrition.

hands holding a small plant

What is Malnutrition?

Malnutrition occurs when a person doesn’t receive enough nutrients for normal bodily functioning. This leads to complications in how children grow and develop. Developmental complications often cause neurological, cognitive and behavioral damage.

Affordable food is often not very nutritious, lacking enough vitamins, minerals, and proteins. So even when children in a household are eating, they may still lack the nourishment needed to develop.

The most common forms of childhood malnutrition in the countries we work in are wasting and stunting.

Wasting comes from moderate to severe, acute malnutrition. Severe lack of nutrient intake, often made worse by diarrhea or infectious disease, causes substantial weight loss or prevents children from gaining weight. Children who suffer from wasting often have weakened immunity along with increased risk of death.

Stunting often looks like a child being too small for their age and is the result of prolonged malnutrition. This condition can affect both body and brain development — their brains have reduced intellectual capabilities, making it hard to succeed in the classroom. Even when addressed in childhood, some never recover completely or grow into their full mental capacity. This then impacts their ability to be financially self-sufficient adults.

What’s the Impact?

As the global food crisis worsens and malnutrition becomes more prevalent, the world could see many more of the devastating effects of poverty:

  • Food insecure households often feel more stress. This can lead to increased domestic violence, depression, caregiver substance abuse and post-traumatic stress disorder. Many families will go into debt, taking out high-interest loans that will continue to hurt their financial situations over time. Others will pull their older children from school to work and help pay for household expenses.
  • Gender-based violence and abuse rates increase with food insecurity. Girls could be forced to marry early to secure a dowry for their parents. These children are also at a higher risk for activities that may involve sexual or criminal exploitation. When food is scarce, girls often eat less and eat last. Women and girls already account for over 70% of the world’s hungry — how much that will increase will depend on how long this crisis lasts.
  • Many parents skip meals so that their children can eat. In turn, older children may also try to reduce their consumption for the sake of others in their homes.
a boy holds a tomato
a girl holds a bowl of corn

What is Compassion Doing?

Compassion is uniquely positioned to respond to the global food crisis. We work with thousands of church partners across the globe who are fighting in the trenches of this crisis. The local church is best positioned to assist because it has established decades of trust and relationship with local communities — it’s been there before, will be there during, and will remain long after this crisis is over.

We work with local churches because the church represents the hope and love of Christ. Compassion will never stop working to release children from poverty in Jesus’ name, and as such, our response to this crisis is two-fold. Through the local church, we are meeting urgent nutritional needs while also working toward long-term, sustainable solutions that will help stop hunger.

Compassion in Action

Abiyot desperately tried to find a solution to feed her children. That’s when she reached out to Compassion’s church partner, where her four-year-old son, Habtemariam, is part of the Child Sponsorship Program.

Abiyot explained her situation to Tsege, the project director. Moved to tears by the single mother's situation, Tsege organized food for the family for several months, plus rent money until the crisis ends.

The news brought great joy and relief to the family. The eldest daughter, Etsub, scooped up her little brother Habtemariam, threw him into the air, and caught him. "Thank God you were born!" she cried. "It is because of you that we have food in the house."

“They have rescued my children from hunger," said Abiyot joyfully. "They are the reason I didn’t grumble against God, and they are my reason to give thanks to Him. I clearly see why God brought us to the church. Where else would have I gone for help?”

Global Food Crisis

A global food crisis is looming, and the church is ready to respond. Compassion partners with more than 8,000 local churches around the world to provide immediate and long-term support to children and families.