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Child nutrition in Afghanistan: ‘My children are smaller than others’

© UNICEF Afghanistan/2005/ Mitani
Rahera is seven and lives with her parents and two little brothers.

By Junko Mitani

KABUL, Afghanistan, 2 November 2005 – Rahera is seven years old and lives in the Kakoji district, about 40 km outside Kabul. She eats her breakfast of bread at around 7 a.m. every morning. One loaf must last Rahera, her parents and two little brothers for three days. There is usually no milk or sugar.

At 10 a.m. Rahera can look forward to receiving a small pack of biscuits at school. Afghan children often cannot concentrate in school because they are so hungry. But Rahera explains that she does not eat all her biscuits herself. “Out of a total of 12 pieces in the pack, I eat only six and bring the rest home and give them to my two little brothers.”

At lunchtime Rahera goes home. Once again, the meal consists only of bread and a cup of tea.  At eight or nine p.m., Rahera’s father comes home from his job as a construction worker, and the family eats dinner together. They usually have bread with some oil and yogurt with a little salt.

The family buys two glasses of yogurt, three times a week. Each time it costs 12 Afghanis ($0.24). When they have extra cash, they buy some onions. This summer they twice enjoyed a special treat: watermelon.

© UNICEF Afghanistan/2005/ Mitani
Rahera with her mother Haida and one of her brothers.

‘Maybe it’s because of food’

Asked what she does when she is very hungry, Rahera answers: “I drink water. My mother once gave me 1 Afghani and I bought a sweet fried bread! Our uncle’s family came the day before yesterday and gave me an apple! I like apples and rice. My favourite meat is mutton!” 

Rahera’s mother, Haida, is 30 years old, illiterate and has already lost five children to pneumonia, measles, tetanus and diarrhoea. She is now pregnant for the ninth time.

When asked about her family’s situation, she replies after some thought: “Maybe it’s because of food that my children are smaller than other children. But our family is very poor. We can’t get enough to eat. That’s why we came to Kabul from our village a month ago.” About half of Afghan children are stunted because of poor feeding practices and malnutrition.

Haida wishes for a better future. “I hope our children can continue to go to school, get good jobs and help the family.”

What UNICEF is doing

UNICEF and a local NGO partner are supporting the Government of Afghanistan to improve children’s nutritional status. As part of a project on infant and young child feeding and caring practices, health information is disseminated to the public and counselling is provided to families like Haida's. If any child is identified as suffering from very severe malnutrition (Rahera is not such a case), the child is enrolled in a special feeding programme.

The project seeks to combine education about a balanced diet – fruits, vegetables, meat, bread and rice – with information on health and hygiene practices, such as washing hands before cooking or eating, drinking only boiled water, and encouraging mothers and families to seek pre-natal care and essential vaccinations. The provision of immunizations is also supported by UNICEF.



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