The Right Nutrition – A Key Priority After Haiti Earthquake

A major concern after the devastating earthquake in Haiti was a possible increase in malnutrition levels -- a common consequence of natural disasters in developing countries. WFP’s emergency operation therefore placed a high emphasis on providing the affected population with highly nutritious food.

WFP’s earthquake response in Haiti had to be crafted from scratch. It was implemented in a highly fluid environment and under very tight time constraints. Distribution of food began immediately the day following the earthquake, using existing stocks of high-energy biscuits. Meals ready-to-eat were also brought into the country and distributed. Within two weeks, almost 1 million people had been provided with emergency rations. In view of the extent of the destruction and the limited cooking capacities for many families, meals ready-to-eat and high energy biscuits provided a useful immediate nutrition solution in the early days of the emergency. 

Soon afterwards a general food distribution could be rolled out covering the most vulnerable segments of the population as women, children, the elderly and handicapped. In March and April, the general food distribution had already reached 1.9 million beneficiaries with rice, beans, corn-soya blend, vegetable oil and salt.  

Supplementary feeding introduced  

At the beginning of February also a supplementary blanket feeding programme for particularly vulnerable groups was implemented, first in Port-au-Prince and then also in other earthquake-affected areas. It covered all children 6–59 months of age and pregnant and lactating women regardless of their nutritional status. Children 6–35 months of age received Supplementary Plumpy. Children 36–59 months and pregnant and lactating women first received high-energy biscuits and later, as cooking facilities became increasingly available, corn-soya blend, sugar and oil. All of these products provided the beneficiaries with increased macro-nutrient (energy, fat, protein) and micronutrient (vitamins, minerals) support. 

Specific to Haiti was the use of Supplementary Plumpy in the context of blanket supplementary feeding which aims to prevent malnutrition. Supplementary Plumpy is normally only used to treat children already suffering from moderate acute malnutrition. In the initial aftermath of the earthquake, though, distributing Plumpy’Doz was not appropriate given limited assurance of other household food stocks to supplement it. Providing a higher daily ration of Plumpy’Doz to cover this lack of some basic food intake would have increased micronutrient levels too much beyond daily needs. Distributing Supplementary Plumpy was therefore a feasible way to guarantee a higher calorie intake. The individual serving sachets also eased distribution and consumption. 

Expansion of nutritional intervention

Since July the increased availability of food and cooking facilities has allowed WFP to switch to Plumpy’Doz in its blanket supplementary feeding programme for children 6–35 months of age. Children 36–59 months of age, on the other hand, receive micronutrient powder which can be sprinkled onto prepared food, while pregnant and lactating women receive micronutrient capsules through UNICEF. Due to improved infrastructure WFP now also implements a targeted supplementary feeding programme which targets moderately acute malnourished children and pregnant and lactating women and provides them with highly nutritious food to prevent them from becoming severely malnourished.