malnutrition in libya

Malnutrition impacts children all over the world, particularly those who are poor or who reside in poorer countries. In Libya, rates for children who experience stunting, wasting and are overweight — the three main effects of malnutrition — are all moderate to very high, indicating that the nation has a lot of work to do to decrease these numbers and improve nutrition and health.

Malnutrition in Libya is exacerbated by the prevalence of migrants, refugees and internally displaced persons (IDPs) in Libya, as many attempt to use the nation as a crossing point to reach Europe. A recent analysis of migrant detention facilities has shown that malnutrition is prevalent in these centers.

Comparing Libya to Global Trends

Worldwide, 21.9 percent of children under five have stunted growth as a result of malnutrition, a significant decrease from 2000, when the rate was nearly 33 percent. Stunting refers to impaired cognitive skills that often lead to a decrease in school and work performance, negatively impacting children for the rest of their lives. Rates are highest in South Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa, where many countries continue to have a rate of 30 percent or higher.

Libya is just below the global average, with 21 percent of children experiencing stunting.

Wasting is the rapid loss of body weight due to malnutrition. Based on UNICEF estimates, 7.3 percent of children globally are wasted and 2.4 percent are severely wasted, with the highest rates in South Asia, followed by West and Central Africa. Rates in Libya are classified as medium, as 5 to 10 percent of children under 5 are wasted. This is comparable to the global average of 7.3 percent.

Complications of Malnutrition

Malnutrition can also cause children to be overweight. Overnutrition is a form of malnutrition that occurs when there is an imbalance in protein, energy and micronutrients in someone’s diet, often resulting in obesity. Not only is it important to eat food, but it is also important to eat the right combination of foods to have a healthy diet.

Globally, 5.9 percent of children under five are overweight, with the highest rates in Eastern Europe and Central Asia and the Middle East and North Africa. Libya is classified as very high, as more than 15 percent of children under five are overweight. This indicates that poor nutrition is one of the most serious food-related issues that Libya faces.

Efforts by the World Food Programme

Malnutrition in Libya has received global attention, and the World Food Programme has stepped in to fight food insecurity. As a nation with a largely desert environment, agriculture is limited, causing Libya to rely heavily on imported food. The country’s current trade deficit has a significant impact on the availability of food and proper nutrition, as prosperous trade is essential to feeding the nation.

To counteract this, the World Food Programme partners with four local organizations, LibAid, the Kafaa Development Foundation, the Sheikh Taher Azzawi Charity Organization (STACO) and the Ayady Al Khair Society (AKS), as well as the UN Country Team and Security Management Team. These local organizations work closely with communities experiencing malnutrition in Libya to determine the amount of need in particular areas.

The World Food Programme then provides onsite food distributions to vulnerable and malnourished families, with each family receiving two food parcels, which can feed five people over the course of a month. The parcels contain pasta, rice, wheat flour, vegetable oil, chickpeas, sugar and tomato paste, all of which provide approximately 75 percent of daily energy requirements. The parcels are meant to be used alongside other food sources, providing access to certain nutrients that are otherwise unavailable.

A Focus on Migrants, Refugees and IDPs

Migrants, refugees and internally displaced persons (IDPs) are the most in need of food assistance worldwide.  Approximately 60 percent of IDPs are vulnerable to food insecurity. As a result, the World Food Programme focuses many of its food distribution efforts on IDPs and other migrants in Libya, as they are among the most vulnerable to malnutrition in Libya.

Many migrants in Libya are out of reach of the World Food Programme as hundreds of detainees are in migrant detention facilities. In March 2019, a detention center in Tripoli came under fire after Doctors Without Borders published nutrition assessments and determined that almost one quarter of those in the center were malnourished or underweight.

Those held in detention facilities are entirely dependent on the Libyan authorities for the food they receive, and Doctors Without Borders found that many only receive one meal every two or three days and that those who are new arrivals sometimes do not receive food for four days.

Doctors Without Borders Respond

In response to this crisis, Doctors Without Borders began providing emergency food rations to ensure that food needs will be met in the future. Karline Kleijer, the head of emergencies for Doctors Without Borders, stated that “If food, shelter and essential services can’t be provided in a consistent and appropriate manner, then these people should be released immediately by the Libyan authorities.”

Hopefully, with the efforts of organizations like the World Food Programme and Doctors Without Borders malnutrition in Libya will continue to be addressed, and the plight of migrants will soon be recognized and responded to by the Libyan government. Malnutrition is clearly a mounting crisis that requires attention as soon as possible.

– Sara Olk
Photo: Flickr