The protracted nature of the Sahrawi refugee operation, risk factors related to environment, poor access to diversified and stable diet as well as poor WASH conditions have led to a precarious nutritional status among Sahrawi refugees and high prevalence of chronic malnutrition in the camps, especially for vulnerable categories such as children under five years old, pregnant and lactating women and elderly persons.

According to the 2016 nutrition survey, the nutritional problems of greatest public health significance are all related to chronic malnutrition. Anaemia in women of reproductive age, pregnant/lactating women and children are at 44%, 72% and 40%, respectively, while stunting in children under five years stands at 19.5%.

The access to sufficient micronutrients remains one of the main nutritional issues in the Sahrawi refugee camps. This issue is mainly, but not exclusively, linked to the undiversified food baskets, poor WASH conditions, some harmful feeding habits and other infection sand parasitic diseases (intestinal worms). Another nutrition related concern is the growing prevalence of overweight and obesity among women of childbearing age. It exposes this category to a huge risk for metabolic diseases such as diabetes, hypertension, cardiovascular diseases and cancer. All the above-mentioned issues combined with the very poor IYCF practices (infant and young child feeding) illustrates the precarious nutrition status prevailing in the Sahrawi refugee camps.

As a comprehensive response to the above, UNHCR (jointly with WFP) is going to support the elaboration and implementation of a multi-sectoral and multi-annual nutrition strategy where interventions will be focused not only on specific interventions on nutrition, by addressing the immediate causes of malnutrition and increasing the coverage and adherence to nutrition programmes, but also to tackle  the main underlying causes of malnutrition by creating functional linkages between the WASH, education and livelihoods sectors, together with nutrition sector. The aim will be to reduce all malnutrition indicators below public health significance (by reducing the anaemia rates in both children under five and pregnant and lactating women to less than 20%, and reduced prevalence of stunting to less than 15%, and to maintain the rates of GAM < 5%). 

In 2020, UNHCR will continue supporting the implementation of the Community-based Management of Acute Malnutrition programme across all the dispensaries according to the new joint plan of action signed with WFP. More importance will be accorded to the preventive interventions, i.e. promoting breastfeeding, promoting good feeding practices and habits, as well as intensifying BCC and sensitization campaigns on nutrition related topics. UNHCR will provide the needed technical and financial support in terms of logistics, incentives, training of staff and support to the community mobilization activities related to nutrition. UNHCR will also maintain its support for the implementation of PISIS. “Plumpy’Nut” and therapeutic milk will be provided by UNHCR. As for IYCF, UNHR will support training for the staff involved in PISIS and provide five sensitization campaigns for pregnant and lactating women on IYCF related issues.