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Infants, mothers of cyclone Sidr-hit areas find solace in power-packed food

© UNICEF Bangladesh/2008/Naser Siddique
A mother feeding her child prepared blended food.

By Iftikhar Ahmed Chowdhury

BARISAL, Bangladesh, 15 September 2008: The women attending the information session on Supplementary Feeding Programme (SFP) in a room at the Shariktala Union Parishad office of Pirojpur district in southern Bangladesh, were so well informed that sometimes the whole thing seemed stage rehearsed. Whenever the trainers asked any question about blended food preparation or any technical aspects related to it, their answers were spot on.        

This part of Bangladesh was worst affected by cyclone Sidr of mid-November 2007, which greatly eroded the capacity of the households to access adequate food and nutrition. Infants, young children, pregnant and breastfeeding women were the first to suffer the brunt of malnutrition as their nutritional requirements are higher, while they are least able to bargain for their fair share of food and access to medical care.

In fact, the fear of food insecurity and malnutrition had become so ingrained in the local population that they almost learnt by heart everything related to timing, cooking process and age-specific ratio of blended supplementary food intake for children, pregnant and lactating mothers. They gained this knowledge by attending such sessions during the past months. Other important nutrition and health topics are also discussed during these sessions, such as the benefits of exclusive breast-feeding, vitamin-A, reproductive health or making of oral saline for diarrhoea cases.

Not only has the population been suffering from the after-cyclone devastation but their access to food is also hindered by the rise in the food prices, which affected Bangladesh since January. Most people cannot buy meat or fish. They can only afford some leafy vegetables, which are relatively cheaper but rich in nutritional value that help them survive through the hardships. 

To address this situation, UNICEF has been implementing a Supplementary Feeding Programme (SFP) in six of the worst cyclone-affected districts – Barisal, Barguna, Pirojpur, Patuakhali, Jhalakhati, and Bagerhat – since February 2008. The programme targeted the most vulnerable population in the districts: children from 6 to 59 months, pregnant and lactating women. All the beneficiaries were issued a card/token which made them eligible for receipt of blended food.

Through this programme, a total of 5,546 metric tons (MT) of blended food was distributed to 389,300 children aged 6-59 months, 117,300 pregnant women and 57,200 lactating women benefited from the programme in Sidr-hit areas.
“In the immediate aftermath of cyclone Sidr, there was hardly any provision for holistic nutrition except for BP5 biscuits distributed as immediate relief. But pregnant and lactating mothers and children aged 6- 59 months are now getting comprehensive nutrition through this blended food mix fortified with 16 vitamins and minerals,” said Purabi Rani, District Coordinator of Prodipan, a partner NGO of UNICEF working for the programme.

Outside the room, women in their huge numbers queued up to collect their family’s share of blended food as Prodipan NGO staff shouldered the responsibility of distributing blended food to some 117 beneficiaries on that particular day out of 5,379 beneficiaries in the upazila (sub-district).

Meherunnesa (20), mother of 11-month-old Rabbi, felt that the blended food gave her son the nutrition he needs. “He likes its taste and it helps increase his appetite. He is now more energetic and lively. It helped us to keep him healthy in the aftermath of cyclone amid shortage of food and limited purchasing ability.”

Jotsna Rani Das, a lactating mother to her 5-month-old son Shujoy, said, “My son is now getting more breast milk. Besides, I also get more energy with the intake of the blended food.” Asked whether the effect is more psychological than physical, she said it was a lifesaver for her and her son, because in such trying times most rural people hardly have any other option but to rely on home-grown vegetables and fruits besides food relief.

Her sister-in-law, Shanti Rani Das, who is five month’s pregnant and a mother of a five-year-old boy, said this was the second time she had come to receive her fortnightly share of blended food. “It has a different but nice kind of taste. I don’t feel the pregnancy-related weakness and the child in my womb is also getting proper nutrition. Even my older son wants to have it instead of rice if there is any left”.

A similar scene prevailed in Shoulojalia Union Parishad Complex in Kathalia Upazila (sub-district) under Jhalakathi district, where people, mostly women, queued up for the blended food distributed by local NGO Islamic Relief Bangladesh. Alamgir Hossain, Upazila Coordinator of Islamic Relief Bangladesh, said there are 6,386 beneficiaries in six unions of Kathalia.

“It cannot be described in mere words how much benefit the programme is bringing from the nutritional perspective of mothers and children,” said Fazlur Rahman, Chairman of the local administration.



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