Every now and then we read about the huge problem of malnourished children being at great risk of contracting infectious diseases. Repeatedly the same causes are mentioned : lack of food, lack of knowledge of good nutritional practices, high prices for many basic food products, poor drinking water quality and extreme poverty leading to hungry mothers having no milk for breastfeed.
We all appreciate the wonderful achievements of UNICEF’s vaccination programs for children. Countless children have been protected from the major infant’s infections. And yet, the results of these vaccinations do not reach the highest scores, mainly because the children’s malnutrition remains at the same level throughout the year or between harvests with the highest rates of global acute malnutrition (GAM).
How to alleviate this general malnourishment, which is so typical for developing countries, in particular those in the dryland areas where nutrition levels are continuously low and even deteriorating constantly ? What kind of initiatives should we take to lower the percentage of children under the age of five classified as underweight for their height ?
There are of course those magnificent efforts of the World Food Programme (WFP), providing food to people in need. Take for instance the WFP interventions described in some of the former posts on this blog :
1. The former posting : “MALNUTRITION ON THE RISE AMONG RURAL TAJIK CHILDREN, UN WARNS”
“Since September, to coincide with the start of the school year, the UN World Food Programme (<“http://www.wfp.org/countries/tajikistan”>WFP) has been providing daily hot meals to 360,000 children attending primary schools in rural Tajikistan. The agency also delivers food to an estimated 260,000 Tajiks considered to be in hardship regions, and also to 15,000 tuberculosis patients and their families. WFP provides a series of other forms of assistance, including take-home rations for schoolgirls, food-for-work projects and nutritional supplements for malnourished children and their mothers.”
2. “SYRIA: WFP pilots SMS food distribution”
“A new pilot project by the World Food Programme (WFP) in Syria has come up with a novel way of getting food aid to Iraqi refugees. WFP claims the project is a world first.
Under the pilot scheme, 1,000 Iraqi families (3,500 beneficiaries) living in Damascus are to receive vouchers worth US$22 per person sent to their mobile phones every two months. These vouchers are redeemable against certain goods in government stores in Jaramana and Saida Zeinab, areas with high Iraqi populations.
Beneficiaries continue to receive 50 percent of their rations under the usual handout system. However, if successful, the pilot could replace the traditional food handouts from distribution centres for all refugees.”
3. “UN AGENCY AIRDROPS CRITICAL FOOD AID TO OVER 155,000 HUNGRY PEOPLE IN SOUTHERN SUDAN”
“The United Nations has begun to parachute food aid into isolated areas of conflict-ridden southern Sudan with the aim of reaching more than 155,000 people cut off from road access by heavy rainfall, the World Food Programme (<“http://www.wfp.org/”>WFP) announced today.
The airdrops, which began last week, are slated to continue for another two-and-a-half months, providing some 4,000 tons of food to people hit by conflict, high food prices and poor harvests in three of the 10 states in southern Sudan – Jonglei, Upper Nile and Warrap.
“We can’t wait for food prices to drop or the roads to be passable again,” said WFP Sudan country director Amer Daoudi. “Airdrops are the only way for us to reach them.”
4. “East Africa Rains Arrive, Too Little, Too Late?”
“The long drought caused the number of people needing aid to soar in recent years. More money’s needed to feed them.
“It’s a pretty serious situation as far as funding for WFP and other agencies and NGOs. The World Food Program, for instance, for its operations in the Horn of Africa for the next six months, needs…one billion dollars, which is a lot of money for six months of operations, and we need it now,” he says.
The WFP has appealed to donors for the money, but collecting it may take some time.”
I could go on and on showing the fantastic achievements of the WFP, delivering food aid all over the world.
However, one question always comes back to my mind : “What is done at the real causes of malnutrition and hunger ?“.
Is it by providing daily hot meals to hundred thousands of children attending primary schools , to people living in hardship regions or in hospitals that we mitigate “the long droughts causing the number of people needing aid to soar” ?
Is it by sending vouchers to mobile phones every now and then that we will alleviate the poverty of the owners of these mobile phones ?
Is it by parachuting food aid into isolated areas that we will combat the disastrous effects of desertification ?
Let me be very clear : I am not against any form of food aid and I strongly believe that WFP and FAO, or any other institution or organization helping the people in need, have to be supported as much as possible. But !
But I also believe that large-scale initiatives should be taken to eradicate the causes of malnutrition and hunger. Food aid can only be a temporary relief. As long as the causes mentioned above will subsist, we will have to continue to spend incredible amounts of money for food aid.
But if we would decide to create opportunities for the people in need, the malnourished, the hungry, the thirsty and the poor ones, to let them start, at the smallest scale, with production of their own vegetables and fruits, we would put a decisive step in the direction of solving those problems. It has been done at demonstration projects in the past, it should be duplicated at the largest scale.
Time has come to consider seriously to set up a world program of construction of small kitchen gardens for all people in need : school gardens for the malnourished children, family gardens for the complete family, hospital gardens, community gardens in refugee camps and even allotment gardens for the urban poor, who show their needs by creating “guerilla gardens” in the cities.
Do you really be serious when you tell me this is impossible ? Let me simply ask you if you are aware of the fact that numerous examples of these gardens exist already, even in unbelievably harsh areas like deserts. You think it will be a problem of costs ? What if a small garden can be laid out at the monthly cost of a mobile phone ? You think it will be a problem of irrigation water ? How comes one can create family gardens in the desert ?
I believe in the optimal combination of local traditional methods with cost-effective modern technologies to change gradually, but completely the outlook of this world. We should start this global initiative ASAP. But if no major efforts are produced to do something about the causes, if we keep healing the wounds, we will eternalize our aid programs and aid projects, “pouring heaps of money in the desert“.
Who again was that good Chinese guy telling us : “Don’t give this man a fish, teach him how to fish !” ? Well, I am a Belgian telling you : “Don’t give this man some food, teach him how to grow it !“.
Let’s pray …
- 2008 – Fresh zucchinis produced in the Sahara desert with a bit of brackish irrigation water. An example for all the drylands.
- 2008 – Juicy vegetables on different square meter beds in the desert sand. Fresh food should grow in millions of small kitchen gardens in all the developing countries, in rural and urban areas. Yes, we should make it possible ! And we can !
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