Sunday, 11 April 2010

United Nations saving lives - prevention better than cure

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Whilst the economic prospects for places like Malawi are hopeful and real progress has been made over the past few years, there are important lessons to be learnt on how to save lives and mitigate against emergencies in developing nations.

A malnourished child and exhausted mother in Malawi in 2002

The World Food Programme in partnership with the International Food Policy Research Institute have issued a paper  - Linking Research and Action urging earlier intervention to protect vulnerable people from slowly slipping into crisis as situations worsen. I remember seeing at first hand in Malawi in the Southern African famine in 2002, how people try to find coping mechanisms when the rains fail.

First they cut back on food and their health starts to suffer (especially young babies and older citizens). Then they start to sell off belongings to buy food such as clothes and pots. Next, they sell off the very tools they need to dig the land. Finally, they are left scratching around to eat worthless plant root before having to abandon their homes and find help many miles away. the needless suffering if they had simply had a little bit of extra help to prevent the cycle of despair is so frustrating.

I saw how a borehole meant that women weren't walking ten miles to a dirty well to collect water each day and could spend more time helping their husbands in the fields and with the animals. They had more energy to care for their children after school and they had a very good chance of survival if the rains failed since the borehole went down ten or more metres to established underground streams.

Paul in Malawi in 2002 at a clean, fresh water borehole

As an example, The WFP have reported this month,  in the Democratic Republic of Congo, it is estimated some 530,000 children under the age of five years and over one million pregnant women are now in desperate need of help. The long running conflict in the country doesn't help (with 124,000 refugees at the last count fleeing into neighbouring countries)  but the global economic down turn has affected the mining industry and high food prices are leaving many hunger children and adults. The UN have called it a "silent emergency" given the lack of reports in the Western media.
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All credit and praise to the WFP for the tremendous work they undertake, often without fanfare or appreciation. As their aims state:-

As the United Nations frontline agency in the fight against hunger, WFP is continually responding to emergencies. We save lives by getting food to the hungry fast.
But WFP also works to help prevent hunger in the future. We do this through programmes that use food as a means to build assets, spread knowledge and nurture stronger, more dynamic communities. This helps communities become more food secure.
WFP has developed expertise in a range of areas including Food Security Analysis, Nutrition, Food Procurement and Logistics to ensure the best solutions for the world's hungry.  
In 2010, WFP aims to bring food assistance to more than 90 million people in 73 countries. See operations.

Thank goodness for the staff and volunteers at the United Nations, the World Food Programme and the multitude of worthy charities.

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