Wednesday, 14 April 2010

Low funding for WFP threatens vital child feeding programs in Yemen

Source : PMGlobal Hunger Examiner by William Lambers

There is a severe hunger crisis facing Yemen. Low funding for the UN World Food Programme (WFP) is causing ration cuts and in some cases, the complete cancellation of food aid programs. In a country where 1 in 3 people suffer from chronic hunger, this shortfall of donations is a disaster in the making.

Maria Santamarina of the World Food Programme in Yemen recently sent me stories of some of the people there who benefit from food programs. As Santamarina pointed out, 7.2 million people in Yemen live in a total poverty trap. Reading some of the stories below, you will see the many challenges people face there ranging from high food prices, lack of education, poor nutrition, or lack of employment opportunities.

To lift the people of Yemen out of poverty, there has to be a development program and food has to be the foundation. Last year, the U.S. Senate issued a resolution to keep Yemen from becoming a failed state. This escalating hunger crisis will move Yemen very quickly down that path.

The stories printed below, courtesy of Maria Santamarina of WFP, focus on nutrition support to mothers and children who are most vulnerable to high food prices.

Keep in mind when reading that if the low funding for the World Food Programme continues, it will means the reduction or outright cancellation of the food programs featured in these stories.

WFP Yemen

Anwar – Moderate Acute Malnourished Child – Thulla, Amran Governorate – Dec. 2009

Anwar Ahmed Nassar – a 15 month baby girl – was born to illiterate and impoverished parents in the village of Qusifi, some 60 km from the capital of Sana'a. Her father’s work as a casual labour in a nearby factory is not sufficient to feed his wife and four children, thus the family relies on borrowing and loans, as well as begging.

The diet of the family is extremely limited, consisting of bread and a water-based sauce; when Anwar’s family is able to afford vegetables, they purchase potatoes or onions – the least expensive items in the market. Meat – received through charity – is only eaten during religious holidays. Anwar’s brothers and sister do not remember the taste of other vegetables or fruits.
Anwar was breastfed by her mother; however when she reached the age of weaning, the family was unable to offer her food.

In September/October 2009 WFP began providing blanket supplementary feeding for children 6-24 months as part of its nutrition intervention under the High Food Price Emergency Operation. One October morning Anwar’s mother, Lutfia, overheard from the neighbors that the area’s health center had begun distribution of food for children, and she decided to take her daughter to the center to collect food assistance.

Upon arrival to the center, a midwife took Anwar’s measurements and found that her weight and height were equivalent to that of a new born baby, not a 15 month old child. Her daughter’s acute malnourishment was a surprise to her mother, who had never been educated or made aware of proper nutrition practices.

She was immediately enrolled in the blanket supplementary feeding programme – within the first month and a half she had already doubled her weight from 3 to 6 kg. Though still underweight, the change is a big improvement compared to when Anwar first arrived to the center.

Lutfia was extremely grateful to the programme: "I have benefited from the support of the supplementary feeding programme and trainings on the practices of good nutrition and food preparation. Thanks to the programme I was able to save my baby."

Imad – Moderate Acute Malnourished Child – Haradh, Hajjah Governorate – Dec. 2009

Abdul Alli Hassan and his wife Fatima have 4 children, including a newborn. They live in the surrounding of Haradh town in Hajjah governorate.

Fatima had come to the Haradh health center in the past to receive pre-natal care, however she was young and not fully aware regarding proper nutrition practices for her family. When WFP began providing food assistance to the center under the High Food Price EMOP, the entire family traveled to the center in order to benefit from the programme. When asked, Abdul Alli explained that they were aware of the operation and target groups, and in their case Fatima would receive assistance as a lactating mother, and their son Imad would also qualify as a 17 month old child for the blanket supplementary feeding.

Upon arrival to the center Imad was observed to be underdeveloped for a child of 17 months: he was emaciated; his head was swollen and he lacked the strength to hold it up on his own; and he was nearly without hair. Abdul Alli explained that the boy had also suffered a leg injury during childbirth and that his legs had never been able to gain strength; his hearing had also never fully developed. Imad’s mid-upper arm circumference indicated that the he was moderately acute malnourished, and when measured his weight was found to be abnormally low for his height and age.

The nurse at the center explained to Abdul Alli that Imad was ill and would have to be enrolled in a special targeted feeding programme in order to better treat his acute malnutrition. Imad would have to return to the center every two weeks for monitoring until his condition had improved.
Abdul Alli was trained on how to administer the Supplementary Plumpy. The feeding began tentatively, worried the boy would not have the strength or will to digest the entire treatment. However as Imad began to eat the peanut-butter like paste, a tiny smile spread across his face, he began to clench the packet in his small hands and eat with vigor, unwilling to let go until he had finished the entire packet .

Abdul Alli smiled, hopeful that his son would soon get better with the treatment.

Halood – Pregnant Mother – Haradh, Hajjah Governorate – Dec. 2009

At 25 years old, Halood Hussein Mohammed is the mother of five children, and is now pregnant with her sixth child. Married at a young age and uneducated, Halood had never come to the Haradh health center to receive care during any of her previous five pregnancies.

In December 2009, when she heard that WFP had begun implementing a programme providing food assistance to mothers and children at health centers, she walked with her five children from her village to nearby Haradh town in Hajjah governorate. Halood unabashedly stated to nurses that the reason she had come to the center that day was to collect food assistance.

Dr. Abdullah – former manager of the center – was on hand to explain that most women in Yemen are not aware of the importance of nutrition or pre/post natal care. However thanks to the food now provided by WFP, pregnant and lactating mothers are approaching the center – many for the first time. Though they come for the food incentive, once at the center the women and children receive vaccinations, pre and post natal care, as well as training on proper nutrition practices. “Food is the best tool to attract families to health centers. Once they are here, we can provide them with the care necessary for a healthy mother and child.”

Anout – Moderate Acute Malnourished Child – Thulla, Amran Governorate – Jan. 2010

Ten year old Bashir protectively carries his 2 year old sister Anout. His sister does not speak and is unable to walk. Bashir and his siblings had received health education training in the local mosque, when he realized that maybe his sister was sick so he asked his uncle, Yahya, to take her to the district health center because they had heard that WFP was providing nutrition support.

“The children make me come here every two week in order to collect the WFP assistance to measure Anout’s progress” said Yahya, whose wife is also benefiting from the programme.
“My sister really likes the [supplementary] plumpy food provided by WFP. I am happy because she is starting to get healthier now and is putting on some weight,” said Bashir, smiling.

Ali – Moderate Acute Malnourished Child – Thulla, Amran Governorate – Jan. 2010

Ali is 1.5 years old. He is sick, and tired all the time because of a micronutrient deficiency. He has never been able to stand up. Ever since WFP began providing assistance at the district health center Ali’s mother has brought him to receive assistance. “He is sick, but it is okay now because he is receiving the necessary treatment. Thanks to WFP I am sure he will become healthier and able to walk” said his mother.

Jamila – Pregnant/Lactating mother – Thulla, Amran Governorate – March 2010

Jamila is a mother of four children living in Thulla town. Her youngest son, Esmajja, is 2 and half months old. She tries to breastfeed him as much as possible, however sometimes she is required to give him powdered milk as her low levels of breastmilk are not enough to satisfy him.
Married at 16 years old, Jamila’s husband is a casual laborer on a farms, however when it does not rain and production is low, he is without employment. Other times he is required to travel to the capital and sell qat, a green leafy plant which is chewed socially as a mild narcotic substance, for a minimal profit.

The family relies almost solely on tea and bread for all three meals a day. When lucky, they are able to purchase an egg or some pulses in the market; rice, fruits and vegetables are rare. Meat is non-existant in their home. Only once a year during the Ramaddan season they may receive some meat from neighbors or friends as charity. “Meat is my favorite food,” said Amat, Jamila’s eldest daughter at 11 years old, “I really wish we could eat it more often. It has been months since we last had some, and I can barely remember the taste.”

Jamila’s children all attend school, however they must rely on their grandmother to provide any spare notebooks or pens as they can not afford them.

For the past six months Jamila has been collecting wheat soya blend (WSB), oil, and sugar from the district health center thanks to WFP. This has helped her maintain a more nutritious diet during the last months of pregnancy as well as during lactation. Moreover, it has allowed her to feel happy and more relaxed because if ever she runs out of food for her children, she is able to use some of the assistance provided by WFP to make WSB porridge or WSB cakes to ensure her children do not go hungry.

She is worried that if WFP stops the assistance programme – as the agency is facing serious funding problems – the health of her family will decline. In this case they will have to borrow from friends and family. Jamila in a sense is lucky. Her grandmother is an ill widow and therefore able to collect from the Government’s social welfare programme and so can help her daughter with some food assistance

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