Food insecurity impacts the nutritional wellbeing of children in Nepal
With support from the Disasters Emergency Committee (DEC), we have been able to respond rapidly to help people severely affected by disasters and emergencies. Our recent response work includes providing aid for people affected by the Nepal earthquakes, Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines and the Ebola epidemic.
Following the Nepal earthquakes, we developed an initial six-month response, covering shelter, non-food items, child protection, education, food, cash transfers, and health, water and sanitation, in order to support children and communities most impacted. With DEC’s support, we focused on two highly affected districts of Sindupalchowk and Dolakha. Our response work helped 61,572 people and focused on those most vulnerable – children, females, the elderly and disable people. We take a look at how our work in Nepal is helping to improve the nutritional well-being of children.
In a country already suffering high rates of child malnutrition (one in two children) even before the earthquake, the impact of the disaster has worsened the health conditions and wellbeing of children in Nepal as families slowly re-gain access to grains and nutritional food varieties.
When the 500,000 homes collapsed in the Nepal earthquakes, what was lost amongst the rubble for nearly 50 per cent of households, included stored grains, seeds, and long-life food materials.
While access to food is becoming increasingly available in the local markets throughout Nepal, children – particularly newborns and children under five – are struggling to receive adequate nutrition in their daily diets.
The impact of food insecurity is now becoming increasingly clear: since the first earthquake, more than 10,000 children have been identified as acutely malnourished.
“Since many earthquake-affected families do not have access to their own food, the mothers are consuming less food (in quantity, quality, and frequency) and suffering from water and sanitation related diseases, meaning they are able to produce less breast milk for their baby,” explains Kaushal Kishore Singh, Plan International’s Maternal, Newborn and Child Health Specialist in Nepal.
We are prioritising the health and wellbeing of children affected by the earthquake, ensuring that families have adequate nutrition through the distribution of food items. To date, we have distributed 40,000 food packs – comprising of 20kg rice, 3kg pulse, oil, salt, sugar and other spices – enough to support a family of five for one week.
We are also supporting the livelihoods of affected children and their families through cash transfers and cash-for-work programs.
The cash-based program aims to provide the most vulnerable earthquake-affected families with cash to meet their basic shelter and food needs. We have provided families with vegetable seeds and tools to support families through the cultivation and cropping season.
“The families – and most often women – have to focus on other forms of traditional work. It is a raining season and time is for both harvesting (maize) and plantation (paddy and millet) now. Women have to focus on tasks like harvesting and bringing in firewood, meaning they have less time to cook, feed and care for their baby,” Singh explains.
Bringing mothers together
Through the support of Plan International, hundreds of Female Community Health Volunteers are coordinate monthly women’s groups in many of the village development committees affected by the earthquake to ensure they are receiving nutritional food.
Comprising of 15 to 20 new mothers, aunts, and grandmothers on average per group, these women discuss critical health and nutrition skills. With crops and food less available, parents are re-adjusting their diets and cooking habits to compensate for what is currently available in the market. Community health volunteers introduce ‘child communal feeding’ practices, focused on cooking techniques and infant and young child feeding. During these meetings, staff members weigh and measure each child, monitoring the growth and development to ensure all children are growing steadily.
“During the communal feeding groups, we teach women and mothers about local available food, varying in protein, carbohydrates, vitamins and fats - teaching women how to cook and prepare food based on what is available and what they are able to consume,” explains Singh.
Children are actively involved in the communal feeding groups. Emphasis is placed on providing fun and entertainment for the children, while the women acquire and practice their new skills.
“We bring balloons and toys for the children, ensuring they are active and stimulated. We find that when the children are happy they eat more food. These events are like a picnic for the baby. We ensure that the entire family is enjoying the process.”
Through the success of the communal feeding groups, women are taking their newfound habits and practicing them in the home. Women and their children are now coming together to cook and share meals, exchanging ideas of food practices and cooking methods – working actively to ensure that all children are growing up safe, healthy and happily.