The Impacts of Displacement and Food Insecurity on Displaced Populations

A food insecurity crisis is a health crisis, with a last- ing impact on the health of the displaced community. Health risks increase while access to healthcare is restricted. A significant increase in global and severe acute malnutrition among children in many internally displaced people (IDPs) and refugee settings has been recorded. Communicable diseases, including cholera, measles, yellow fever, and COVID-19 are a major public health concern, especially with the further displacements and disruption of living conditions and sanitation.

There are several threats that cause IDPs and refugees to flee their homes. Some reasons for fleeing are to escape violence, conflict(s), human right violations, and other man-made or natural threats. States must protect the rights of IDPs, however, some states are unable or unwilling to do so, leaving IDPs and refugees facing food insecurity as well as threats to their health and well-being. Additionally, there is an evident inversed relationship as well, where food insecurity by itself can be a major contributing factor to becoming displaced.

Refugees and IDPs are among the groups most vulnerable to acute food insecurity and malnutrition as well as other health risks resulting from the loss of assets and means of subsistence, disruptions to community-based safety nets, and disruptions to national social protection systems. At the same time, barriers to healthcare access also increase, reducing the coverage of affordable, available, and accessible healthcare services, threatening the effectiveness of health programs.

Displacement not only affects people’s health but also their self-reliance, and physical, mental, and socio-economic well-being. In response to desperate situations, many people, especially women and girls, resort to coping strategies that are nutritionally harmful, such as skipping or reducing meals or opting for less nutritious food. According to literature these negative health effects are worse for women who are pregnant or lactating. Self-reliance is reduced when community support systems or assets are lost resulting in increased household indebtedness. Self-reliance can be compromised by the selling of assets or taking interest- bearing loans. The threat of marginalization, abuse and exploitation, gender-based violence, and intercommunal tensions arises when those displaced cope by begging, engaging children in labor, interrupting education, resorting to child marriage to obtain alternative sources of income, or engaging in the sale of sex in exchange for food for instance.

Source: UN High Commissioner for Refugees