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Post-tsunami survey helps combat undernutrition in the Maldives

UNICEF Image: UNICEF image: Maldives nutrition
© UNICEF/HQ05-0454/Horner
UNICEF and its partners are working on ways to grow more fruit and vegetables on the sandy atolls of the Maldives.

As part of the launch of ‘Progress for Children No.4: A Report Card on Nutrition’, UNICEF is featuring a series of stories focusing on successful initiatives that can help counter the many threats to children's nutritional status.

KUDAHUVADHOO, Maldives, June 2006 – Shafts of sunlight pierced the acrid wood smoke from the open fires. Inside the communal kitchen, lunch was nearly ready. And today, as most other days, it was fish and rice. The residents of this temporary camp on Kudahuvadhoo Island would not have expected the menu to be any different. Like previous generations who grew up on these sandy, virtually barren atolls, they are used to a diet without fresh produce.

“People – when they think of the Maldives with this pristine, paradise environment and lobster buffets – would find it very hard to understand that these islands suffer from a chronic malnutrition problem,” said Ken Maskall, UNICEF Representative in the Maldives.

In fact, the Maldives has one of the worst rates of undernutrition in South Asia, and one quarter of children under five suffer stunted growth. Along with a short supply of greens, a lack of education and a diet containing too many sugary foods are to blame.

To help combat these problems, the largest nutrition survey of its kind was conducted in this country. Teams from the Maldives’ Ministry of Health, supported by UNICEF, went from island to island on live-aboard boats, carrying out a detailed study among mothers with children under three years old and gathering information on what kinds of food they had been feeding their children.

Community-based systems

In describing the value of the project, Mr. Maskall explained that it “will enable us to find out when and how the malnutrition problems start and plan interventions that will lead to a change in the situation.” He believes in long-term, sustainable solutions utilizing small pilot schemes to make these sandy islands more fertile.

And some of those programmes are under way. UNICEF is supporting community-based nutrition education and growth-monitoring systems in the country. The level of undernutrition among children is a problem unexpectedly highlighted by the tsunami, and one that might eventually be solved by resources allocated in the wake of the tragedy. Projected expenditures for the next two years (2006–2007) are estimated at $14 million.

As she spoke from the displaced persons camp on Kudahuvadhoo, Aishath Naaz of the Ministry of Health noted, “On those islands [where] they are not getting fruit and vegetables, they are used to [serving] rice with fish. That’s the only thing they can get.” All around, members of her team were busy filling in questionnaires with residents or measuring weight and height of infants and children.

As she was preparing to finish her work on this island and move to the next, Ms. Naaz was optimistic. “We will analyse all the data and identify the islands that need help,” she said. “In the Maldives we don’t want to have any islands which do not have good education and health.”



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