and Drought Threaten Afghan Food Supply
families living in makeshift homes along a mountain cave complex on the
outskirts of Bamian. The Hazara are one of the larger ethnic groups in
Photo: Moises Saman for The New York Times
May 2008 (IRIN) - The Health Ministry, with UN
support, plans to conduct a rapid nutrition needs assessment in vulnerable
provinces affected by high food prices. This will be used as a baseline for
future nutrition interventions.
“The assessment will be launched in the very near future and will be completed in 10 days,” Mohammad Qasem Shams, food and nutrition expert at the Ministry of Public Health (MoPH), told IRIN in Kabul on 5 May.
“We’re only waiting to receive funds from UNICEF [the UN Children’s Fund] and WHO [the UN World Health Organization] to execute the rapid assessment,” he said.
In a Joint Appeal for the Humanitarian Consequences of the Rise in Food Prices, launched in January, UNICEF and WHO asked donors for over US$ 2.2 million to tackle possible malnourishment and micronutrient deficiency among under-five children and pregnant and lactating women.
Through joint nutrition intervention, UN agencies and the MoPH intend to provide therapeutic feeding and micronutrient supplies - and equipment, including weighing scales and height-measuring boards - to health facilities in targeted areas.
More on food security in Afghanistan
As food is increasingly becoming unaffordable for millions of poor Afghans, malnourishment and micronutrient deficiency are fast becoming major health threats for children under five and pregnant and lactating women, public health experts warned.
“High food prices have vastly impacted the quality and quantity of food that many ordinary and poor households consume… When food becomes inaccessible children and pregnant and lactating women become particularly prone to malnourishment and micronutrient deficiencies,” Shams said, adding that up to 54 percent of under-five children were stunted, 39 percent were underweight, about 7 percent were wasted and 21 percent of women of reproductive age were malnourished.
Lack of access to adequate food is also one of the major factors contributing to high mortality rates and severe malnutrition among high-risk populations - especially the displaced, returnees and the disadvantaged - health specialists say.
Lack of awareness about food quality and basic dietary needs among Afghanistan’s estimated 26.6 million people is another major issue which contributes to children’s and women’s malnourishment, said Ebadullah Ansari, a public health specialist in Kabul.
Malnourished children and women are also prone to diarrhoea and other communicable diseases, which can increase already high maternal and infant mortality rates, MoPH officials said.
To counter the problem, the WHO will buy medicine to reduce “morbidity and mortality especially among women and children due to malnutrition and micronutrient deficiencies”, the joint appeal said.
UNICEF-supported feeding units
After Sierra Leone and Angola, Afghanistan has the highest child mortality rate in the world where every day about 600 under-five children die due to pneumonia, diarrhoea, malnutrition and other preventable diseases, according to UNICEF.
The country is only second to Sierra Leone in terms of maternal mortality with 1,600 deaths per every 100,000 live births, MoPH says.
UNICEF said it was supporting 37 therapeutic feeding units in 29 of Afghanistan’s 34 provinces where malnourished children and mothers receive treatment and care.
“There has been a two-fold increase in malnourished under-five children admissions to therapeutic feeding centres between 2005 and 2007, which indicates that vulnerability to malnutrition remains high even in normal times,” UNICEF said in a report in January.
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