Nutrition in Emergencies

Indicators and Reference Levels

Authored by: Helen Young

Routledge Handbook of Global Public Health

Print publication date:  December  2010
Online publication date:  December  2010

Print ISBN: 9780415778480
eBook ISBN: 9780203832721
Adobe ISBN: 9781136838330


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There is no best indicator, best measure of an indicator, or best analysis of an indicator in a generic sense. The definition of ‘best’ depends ultimately on what is most appropriate for the decision that must be made.

(Habicht and Pelletier, 1990: 1519) There is a long history of using nutritional or anthropometric indicators to gauge the severity of food insecurity, famine, and nutritional emergencies dating back to the 1960s in Biafra and India. A decade later, in the 1970s, nutrition surveys in emergencies had become increasingly common and guidelines on nutritional surveys and nutrition programmes in emergencies were subsequently published (de Ville de Goyet et al. 1978; Peel, 1977). In acute emergency contexts, high prevalences of acute malnutrition have been and continue to be associated with high death rates, and are understood to reflect the severity of the crises. However, in the past decade it appears that prevalence levels of acute malnutrition in emergencies have fallen compared to earlier decades. For example, a review of 298 surveys submitted to the Refugee Network Information System (RNIS) between 1992 and 1994 found that prevalence levels of acute malnutrition ranging from 20 per cent up to 50 per cent were common in emergencies in Angola, Liberia, Rwanda/Burundi, and Somalia, with the number of reports of acute malnutrition even higher in southern Sudan (up to 80 per cent) (Borrel and Salama 1999).

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