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close this bookRefugee Nutrition Information System (RNIS), No. 27 - Report on the Nutrition Situation of Refugee and Displaced Populations (UNSSCN, 1999, 78 p.)
View the document(introduction...)
View the documentHighlights
View the document1. Angola
Open this folder and view contents2. Great Lakes Region
View the document3. Ethiopia
View the document4. Eritrea
View the document5. Kenya
Open this folder and view contents6. Liberia/Sierra Leone Region
View the document7. Guinea Bissau
View the document8. Somalia
Open this folder and view contents9. Sudan
View the document10. Uganda
View the document11. Zambia
Open this folder and view contents12. Afghanistan Region
View the document13. Bhutanese Refugees in Nepal
View the document14. Refugees from Rakhine State, Myanmar in Bangladesh
View the document15. Kosovo Crisis
View the documentListing of Sources for June 1999 RNIS Report *27
View the documentAbbreviations used in the text
View the documentTables and figures
View the documentBack Cover

Back Cover

The UN ACC/SCN1, which is the focal point for harmonizing policies in nutrition in the UN system, issues these reports on the nutrition of refugees and displaced people with the intention of raising awareness and facilitating action to improve the situation. This system was started on the recommendation of the SCN's working group on Nutrition of Refugees and Displaced People, by the SCN in February 1993. This is the twenty seventh of a regular series of reports. Based on suggestions made by the working group and the results of a survey of RNIS readers, the Reports on the Nutrition Situation of Refugees and Displaced People will be published every three months, with updates on rapidly changing situations on an 'as needed' basis between full reports.

1ACC/SCN, c/o World Health Organization, 20 Avenue Appia, CH-1211 Geneva 27. Switzerland. Telephone: (41-22)791.04.56, Fax (41-22)798.88.91, Email, Website: http:/

Information is obtained from a wide range of collaborating agencies, both UN and NGO (see list of sources). The overall picture gives context and information which separate reports cannot provide by themselves. The information available is mainly about nutrition, health, and survival in refugee and displaced populations. It is organised by "situation" because problems often cross national boundaries. We aim to cover internally displaced populations as well as refugees. Partly this is because the system is aimed at the most nutritionally vulnerable people in the world - those forced to migrate - and the problems of those displaced may be similar whether or not they cross national boundaries. Definitions used are given in the box on the next page. At the end of the situation descriptions, there is a section entitled "Priorities and recommendations" which is intended to highlight the most pressing humanitarian needs. The recommendations are often put forward by agencies or individuals directly involved in assessments or humanitarian response programmes in the specific areas.

The tables, and figures at the end of the report can provide a quick overview. Table 1 gives an estimate of the probable total refugee/displaced/returnee population, broken down by risk category. Populations in category I in Table 1 are currently in a critical situation, based on nutritional survey data. These populations have one or more indicators showing a serious problem. Populations at high risk (category IIa in Table 1) of experiencing nutritional health crises are generally identified either on the basis of indicators where these are approaching crisis levels and/or also on more subjective or anecdotal information often where security and logistical circumstances prevent rigorous data collection. Populations at moderate risk (category IIb in Table 1) are potentially vulnerable, for example based on security and logistical circumstances, total dependency on food aid, etc. Populations in category IIc are not known to be at particular risk. In Table 2, refugee and displaced populations are classified by country of origin and country of asylum. Internally displaced populations are identified along the diagonal line. Figure 1 shows trends over time in total numbers and risk categories for Africa. Annex I summarises the survey results used in the report.


WASTING is defined as less than -2SDs, or sometimes 80%, wt/ht by NCHS standards, usually in children of 6-59 months. For guidance in interpretation, prevalences of around 5-10% are usual in African populations in non-drought periods. We have taken more than 20% prevalence of wasting as undoubtedly high and indicating a serious situation; more than 40% is a severe crisis.

SEVERE WASTING can be defined as below -3SDs (or about 70%). Any significant prevalence of severe wasting is unusual and indicates heightened risk. (When "wasting" and "severe wasting" are reported in the text, wasting includes severe - e.g. total percent less than -2SDs, not percent between -2SDs and -3SDs.) Data from 1993/4 shows that the most efficient predictor of elevated mortality is a cut off of 15% wasting (ACC/SCN, 1994, p81).

BMI (wt/ht2) is a measure of energy deficiency in adults. We have taken BMI<18.5 as an indication of mild energy deficiency, and BMI<16 as an indication of severe energy deficiency in adults aged less than 60 years (WHO, 1995).

MUAC (cm) is a measure of energy deficiency in both adults and children. In children, equivalent cut-offs to -2SDs and -3SDs of wt/ht for arm circumference are about 12.0 to 12.5 cms, and 11.0 to 11.5 cms, depending on age. In adults a MUAC<22 cm in women and <23 cm in men may be indicative of a poor nutritional status. BMI and MUAC are sometimes used in conjunction to classify adult nutritional status (James et al, 1994).

OEDEMA is the key clinical sign of kwashiorkor, a severe form of protein-energy malnutrition, carrying a very high mortality risk in young children. It should be diagnosed as pitting oedema, usually on the upper surface of the foot. Where oedema is noted in the text, it means kwashiorkor. Any prevalence detected is cause for concern.

A CRUDE MORTALITY RATE in a normal population in a developed or developing country is around 10/1,000/year which is equivalent to 0.27/10,000/day (or 8/10,000/month). Mortality rates are given here as "times normal", i.e. as multiple of 0.27/10,000/day. [CDC has proposed that above 1/10,000/day is a very serious situation and above 2/10,000/day is an emergency out of control.] Under-five mortality rates (U5MR) are increasingly reported. The average U5MR for Sub-Saharan Africa is 175/1,000 live births, equivalent to 1.4/10.000 children/day and for South Asia the U5MR is 0.7/10,000/day (in 1995. see UNICEF, 1997, p.98).

FOOD DISTRIBUTED is usually estimated as dietary energy made available, as on overage figure in kcals/person/day. This divides the total food energy distributed by population irrespective of age/gender (kcals being derived from known composition of foods); note that this population estimate is often very uncertain. The adequacy of this average figure can be roughly assessed by comparison with the calculated average requirement for the population (although this ignores maldistribution), itself determined by four parameters: demographic composition, activity level to be supported, body weights of the population, and environmental temperature; an allowance for regaining body weight lost by prior malnutrition is sometimes included (see Schofield and Mason 1994 for more on this subject). For a healthy population with a demographic composition typical of Africa, under normal nutritional conditions, and environmental temperature of 20°C, the average requirement is estimated as 1,950-2,210 kcals/person/day for light activity (1.55 BMR). Raised mortality is observed to be associated with kcal availability of less than 1,500 kcals/person/day (ACC/SCN, 1994, p81).

INDICATORS AND CUT-OFFS INDICATING SERIOUS PROBLEMS are levels of wasting above 20%, crude mortality rates in excess of 1/10,000/day (about four times normal - especially if still rising), and/or significant levels of micronutrient deficiency disease. Food rations significantly less than the average requirements as described above for a population wholly dependent on food aid would also indicate an emergency.


James W.P.T. and Schofield C. (1990) Human Energy Requirements. FAO/OUP.

James. W.P.T., Mascie-Tayl, C.G.N., Norgan, N.G., Bistrian, B.R., Shetty, P.S. and Ferro-Luzzi, A. 1994. The value of MUAC in assessing chronic energy deficiency in Third World Adults. Eur. Jour. Clin. Nut. 48:883-894.

Schofield C. and Mason J. (1994) Evaluating Energy Adequacy of Rations Provided to Refugees and Displaced Persons. Paper prepared for Workshop on the Improvement of the Nutrition of Refugees and Displaced People in Africa, Machakos, Kenya, 5-7 December 1994. ACC/SCN, Geneva.

ACC/SCN (1994) Update on the Nutrition Situation, 1994 (p81).
UNICEF (1997) State of the World's Children p.98. UNICEF, New York.
WHO (1995) Bulletin of the World Health Organization, 1995,73 (5): 673-680.