Tuesday, November 1, 2011


Children are precious and if not properly fed with right type of food they can become a social liability in future due to severe malnutrition and many diseases that make them mentally and physically disabled. Those having sufficient resources to buy nutrient dense foods to feed their children are indeed fortunate while there are millions of families with scarce resources living with hope that their lot will improve one day! Rich countries express their intention frequently in many international forums regarding food aid but many times there is a big gap between promise and follow up action. If some international agencies are to be believed, most foods "donated" by rich countries like America and in Europe are survival oriented and definitely not health targeted, providing only some calories. If world community has to live in peace, it cannot ignore this aspect any longer and food aid must be increased qualitatively and quantitatively. Here is a take on this vexing problem for which a solution needs to be found without any further delay.

"Malnutrition—a preventable and treatable condition—afflicts an estimated 195 million children worldwide, and is the underlying cause of at least one-third of the eight million annual deaths of children under five years of age, the vast majority of which occur in the developing world. Children under the age of two are the most vulnerable, and without access to nutrient-dense foods necessary for growth and development, such as highly effective ready-to-use supplementary foods now available, they will suffer debilitating lifelong consequences. "It's been proven beyond any doubt that getting nutritionally appropriate foods to young, vulnerable children saves their lives, yet the global food aid system has not fully caught up with the revolutionary gains made in nutrition science," said Dr. Unni Karunakara, MSF'sInternational President. The bulk of international food aid shipments, including those to countries with a high burden of malnutrition, such as parts of sub-Saharan Africa, are comprised of corn-soy blend (CSB) fortified flours, which do not include the vital nutrients and proteins growing children require.  The United States alone annually ships approximately 130,000 metric tons of sub-standard CSB—grown and processed on American farms—to the developing world. Most food aid today lacks appropriate nutrition. While initiatives like the "1,000 days" campaign or the "Scaling Up Nutrition" (SUN), bring together countries featuring high levels of malnutrition with major international food donors— demonstrating that there is a scientific and political consensus on the need to focus on children under two—most food aid today does not provide appropriate nutrition to young children. "The catalogue of products available for food aid is still grossly neglecting the needs of the most vulnerable," said Dr. Karunakara. "There's no excuse for waiting anymore; the world's major food aid donor countries need to finally get on board." On October 12, on behalf of more than 125,000 individuals from over 180 countries who signed a petition, MSF sent letters to representatives of the top food aid donor countries, including the US, European Union Member States, Canada, and Brazil demanding them to "stop supplying nutritionally substandard food to malnourished children and children at risk of malnutrition in developing countries." "Many countries, including in Europe, have successfully addressed malnutrition at home by relying on strategies that ensure the most vulnerable have access to nutrient-dense foods," said Dr. Karunakara. "But we're still waiting for them to apply the same strategies and focus to the foods that they send abroad as food aid." Some key food aid players have begun to change. The World Food Programme, for example, now uses supplementary foods that meet the nutritional needs of children under two as the cornerstone of its interventions in medical emergencies. Such products played a key role in 2010 in the responses to the nutritional crisis that hit Niger, the floods in Pakistan, and the earthquake in Haiti. And donor nations and aid agencies have improved the quality of foods sent to Somalia and Kenya in response to current nutrition crises there. Yet malnourished children living outside of these high-profile emergencies continue to receive products from major international food aid donors that do not meet their specific nutritional needs".

It is well known that unless adequate and proper nutrition is ensured during early stages of growth of a child up to three years of age, there is little one can do to reverse the damages caused by early childhood malnutrition. What is unpardonable is that many of the donor countries know fully well what is to be done to prevent malnutrition in their own country for which they make adequate provision for programs that address this problem and yet send low quality food as aid to poor countries which are trying to overcome this human tragedy. Probably the collective conscience of the world will have to bring pressure on these rich nations to be a little more generous to improve the child malnutrition conditions that prevail in many economically poor countries with out any strings attached.


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