Over half a million children at risk of malnutrition in Malawi

UNICEF is calling for US$ 87.7 million to address the urgent needs of 3.3 million children

19 May 2023

Lilongwe, 19 May 2023 At least 573,000 children under five are at risk of suffering from malnutrition in Malawi, UNICEF warns. Despite recent progress in reducing chronic malnutrition, acute food insecurity—compounded by recurrent climate shocks, preventable disease outbreaks, economic instability, and chronic underfunding in the social sectors — threatens to reverse past gains.

Malawi is still grappling with the devastation caused by Tropical Cyclone Freddy in March, with 659,000 people currently internally displaced, including many children. Meanwhile, an ongoing cholera outbreak in the country has already claimed 1,759 lives.

"Children in Malawi are at the sharp end of the global polycrisis. Food insecurity, exasperated by a growing climate crisis, disease outbreaks, and the global economic downturn, is threatening to wreak havoc and disrupt the lives of millions of children,” said UNICEF Country Representative Gianfranco Rotigliano. "The prospect of having over half a million children suffering from malnutrition is unacceptable. Without an immediate response, the impact on these vulnerable children will be deadly."  

A new Humanitarian Action for Children (HAC) appeal, launched by UNICEF today, shows an increase in malnutrition cases among children in Malawi over the last five years, with the challenge accelerating significantly in recent months. In 2023 alone, it is estimated that over 62,000 children, aged between 6 to 59 months, are at risk of severe acute malnutrition (SAM), often called wasting.

To respond to the urgent needs of 6.5 million people, including 3.3 million children, UNICEF has increased its appeal for Malawi from US$52.4 to US$87.7 million. This funding will be used to meet priority needs, such as ready-to-use therapeutic food (RUTF) for treating severe acute malnutrition, access to safe drinking water, sanitation, hygiene items, health, nutrition, education, child protection services, and cash transfer  schemes.

In the first quarter of 2023, with the support of donors and partners, UNICEF assisted the Government of Malawi in screening 140,307 children under the age of five for acute malnutrition. Among them, 522 children were identified as having SAM and were referred to health facilities for further care.

"Without increased support, poor and vulnerable households with children will be left without access to basic services, essential supplies, and social assistance,” said Rotigliano. “But beyond the immediate response, it is crucial that we invest in long-term solutions by strengthening systems and building resilience within communities to handle recurring outbreaks and humanitarian emergencies better.”


Note to Editors:


Malawi Appeal | Humanitarian Action for Children: https://www.unicef.org/appeals/malawi

In the first quarter of 2023, thanks to the support of donors and partners, UNICEF supported the Government of Malawi to achieve the following:


  • Reached over 1.2 million people with a sufficient quantity and quality of water for drinking and domestic needs, over 3 million with critical water, sanitation, and hygiene supplies, and over 200,000 with appropriate sanitation services.
  • Supported over 19,000 children and adults in accessing treatment at cholera treatment centres.
  • Trained more than 11,000 healthcare and community workers in infection prevention and control, as well as case management of cholera.
  • Provided cash transfers to 20,921 households in Blantyre and Zomba, two key affected districts.
  • Trained 243 teachers on cholera prevention and management in 92 schools, benefiting 167,379 young learners.

Media contacts

Giacomo Colarullo
Communication Officer
Tel: +1 718 791 8245
Fungma Fudong

Additional resources

A child receives an oral vaccine
A child receiving the cholera vaccine in Chikwawa district during the cholera vaccination campaign in May 2022. UNICEF supported Ministry of Health by delivering 2.9 million doses of OCV.


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