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High food prices in the Pacific increases hardship for vulnerable families and children

food in Pacific
© Skataiwai/Feb/2011

Suva, Fiji, 14 April 2011— As global food prices surge to new peaks, the Pacific’s most vulnerable families and children are at risk. UNICEF is expressing particular concern for the urban poor and calling for action by governments and partners to ensure that rising food prices do not undermine Pacific children’s nutrition, education and development.

Since, 2009, UNICEF has worked with six Pacific Island Countries  to establish early warning sentinel monitoring to track the impact of economic crises on the most vulnerable and to provide real-time pulse data. The most recent round of surveys in 18 urban settlements and rural communities reveal a worrying picture of high food prices across the region. A majority of families interviewed as part of the sentinel monitoring reported increased economic stress in meeting food expenditures due to the rising food prices.  The impact is being felt in family’s diets as they switch to locally-produced foods or cheaper substitutes. 

“The problem is particularly acute for families in urban settlements who do not have the option of supplementing their diets with gardening and fishing,” according to UNICEF’s Representative in the Pacific, Dr. Isiye Ndombi. “The effects of cutting back on food or switching to less nutritious food can have a serious effect on pregnant mother and young children, depriving them of essential nutrients during a critical period in their development.”

Sentinel monitoring also reveals that adolescents are facing some of the harshest impacts of the price rises. Children are being pulled from secondary schools as parents cannot afford fees or because they need the older sibling to help earn money to support the family.  In Vanuatu, one secondary school surveyed had experienced a 20% drop in enrolment. Research with boarding schools in Vanuatu and Tuvalu shows that they are struggling to provide adequate rations for their students, with systematic underfunding to meet the dietary needs of students.

In response to global and regional concerns over high food prices, FAO and Pacific Island governments and regional partners will be meeting in Nadi, Fiji this week to discuss measures to address the emerging food price crisis. While measures will need to be based on individual country situations, and the priorities and capacities of different stakeholders, UNICEF calls on all countries to ensure that children and mothers are placed as a first priority.

Regional strengthening of statistics gathering on food prices and analysis of their social impact is an essential first step. In addition, UNICEF strongly recommends that PIC governments consider targeted assistance to the most vulnerable families. Recognizing the different vulnerabilities faced by the rural and urban poor, governments should consider food assistance to the urban poor in order to prevent the worst nutritional outcomes caused by the increased price of food. Examples of this include food and nutritional supplements for pregnant and new mothers and under-fives and school feeding programmes.

Promotion of exclusive breast-feeding up to six months and continued breastfeeding and timely complimentary feeding should also be promoted amongst vulnerable groups as the safest, healthiest and most cost-effective option for infants and toddlers to ensure proper nutrition.

As more families shift to backyard gardens, subsistence farming and fishing to supplement their diets, there is a window of opportunity for PIC governments to act more strategically to promote diverse local food production and diet diversification.  Over the long run this can help to reduce dependency on costly imports and improve the health of Pacific Islanders.

About UNICEF
UNICEF is present in over 150 countries and territories to help children survive and thrive, from early childhood through adolescence. The world’s largest provider of vaccines for developing countries, UNICEF supports child health and nutrition, good water and sanitation, quality basic education for all boys and girls, and the protection of children from violence, exploitation, and AIDS.  UNICEF is funded entirely by the voluntary contributions of individuals, businesses, foundations and governments.

For further information please contact:
Samantha Cocco-Klein, UNICEF Pacific, +679 9925537, scoccoklein@unicef.org
Tomas Jensen, UNICEF Pacific, +679 3386197, tjensen@unicef.org

 

 

 

 

 

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