|© UNICEF Mali/2009/Dicko|
|UNICEF Executive Director Ann M. Veneman with a mother and child at Health Centre One in Bamako, Mali.|
By Guy Hubbard
BAMAKO, Mali, 11 November 2009 – Bisected by the vast and growing Sahara Desert, Mali is a country where food and nutrition security are precarious even in the best of times.
But with soaring food prices, a by-product of the global economic crisis, more and more people here are struggling to obtain adequate nutrition. Undernutrition has reached World Health Organization emergency levels, and hospital wards are full.
Health Centre One, in Bamako, the capital, a referral hospital, is struggling to keep up with the influx of new cases – especially those involving children. With support from UNICEF, Dr. Habibata Traore and her nurses are able to treat milder cases with therapeutic feeding.
“We get children in different conditions,” said Dr. Traoré. “Some can’t eat. Some are hyper-sensitive. Some are not cognitive and need to be put on feeding tubes.”
Undernutrition and child mortality
According to a UNICEF report released today, ‘Tracking Progress on Child and Maternal Nutrition’, the number of hungry people worldwide has topped 1 billion, and undernutrition is a factor in a third of all deaths of children under the age of five.
Last week, UNICEF Executive Director Ann M. Veneman visited Mali, one of the poorest countries in the world, to draw attention to the issue.
“One in five children in Mali do not survive to see their fifth birthday,” said Veneman. “Most of these children are dying from preventable diseases like pneumonia, diarrhoea and malaria, often exacerbated by undernutrition. In Mali, 32 per cent of children under five are underweight.”
A healthier start in life
Following meetings with President Amadou Toumani Touré and government ministers, Veneman visited a clinic where she spoke to doctors and nurses about their work and about undernutrition. She also met with mothers, including Rocacaya Diarra, whose one-year-old son was admitted after he had grown too weak to lift his head.
After receiving intravenous feeding followed by a regimen of therapeutic milk, the child is starting to recover.
“He is much better now,” said Diarra. “When he arrived, he couldn’t sit up and his head rolled, but now he can sit up and stay like that. He’s taking food as well, and he drinks all his therapeutic milk and looks forward to meal times.”
Veneman praised the staff for their commitment to improving child survival in Mali. She noted that UNICEF and other partners are working closely with the government to help improve conditions so that undernutrition and mortality among mothers are reduced, and their babies have a healthier start in life.
Climate change and food security
While the food supply in Mali is secure for the moment – with high agricultural production expected between now and March 2010 – climate change and desertification threaten the country’s farmers.
During her visit, Veneman travelled to Timbuktu, on the edge of the Sahara, where women’s agricultural groups keep the encroaching desert at bay through the use of canals and wells – and careful planning. The women here not only grow rice, squash, maize, grain and onions, but also plant trees to shade vegetables, secure shifting sands and prevent soil erosion.
Veneman planted her own tree – one of many that will, in time, form a barrier against the planet’s biggest desert.
“These women are empowered to produce needed food while adapting to the impact of climate change,” said Veneman. “As the Copenhagen Climate Change summit approaches, it is important to recognize that climate change is adversely affecting the lives of the world’s poorest and most vulnerable people.”