Current issues and what the World Food Programme is doing
Prone to natural disasters and facing high levels of poverty, Bangladesh faces many challenges in reducing widespread malnutrition, especially among children and young mothers.
WFP aims to improve food security and nutritional well-being for the poorest communities in Bangladesh. It has been assisting high-risk groups in Bangladesh since 1974 and helped more than 155 million people over the past four decades.
What are the current issues in Bangladesh?
Despite recent economic progress in Bangladesh, one third of the population lives in poverty and roughly a quarter of the population is unable to access sufficient, safe and nutritious food. Low dietary diversity is a persistent problem in Bangladesh and has showed no significant improvement in recent years.
A staggering 41 percent of children below the age of five show signs of stunted growth caused by chronic undernutrition. More than 16 percent of children under the age of five are acutely undernourished, and every fourth woman of reproductive age is too thin for her height. About one third of adolescent girls in Bangladesh suffer from anemia and micronutrient deficiency.
Poverty and undernutrition hinder children’s ability to learn and complete their education. While school enrolment has improved over recent years, an estimated 3.3 of 20 million children of primary school age remain out of school, and only eight in ten children that start primary school complete grade five. Dropout rates are higher in poorer areas.
Achieving gender equality also remains a challenge. There are significant disparities between men and women in health, education and income. With more than two thirds of girls married before the age of 18, the risk of early pregnancy and giving birth to an underweight baby is very high. More than 20 percent of newborns have a low birth weight.
Disasters in Bangladesh, such as floods, cyclones and droughts, are also a significant threat to food security. Disasters force the poorest to adopt negative coping strategies, such as eating less, withdrawing children from school and selling productive assets.
What is the World Food Programme doing in Bangladesh?
Improving Maternal and Child Nutrition
With the help of community health workers, WFP provides supplementary feeding to mothers and children in the poorest parts of Bangladesh, along with advice in how to change nutrition behaviour. Undernourished children aged 6-59 months, pregnant women and nursing mothers receive specialist help and nutritious high-energy food fortified with vitamins and minerals.
By taking action during the first 1,000 days of a child’s life, from conception to two years of age, WFP is helping to prevent a lack of nutrients from having a long-term impact on mental and physical development, growth, learning ability as well as future productivity and income.
Feeding School Children
To help the government achieve universal primary education, WFP works with the Ministry of Primary and Mass Education to provide food to pre-primary and primary school children in disadvantaged areas. WFP also provides resources for teachers so they can teach children and parents about social challenges, vegetable gardening, health, nutrition and hygiene.
The government’s national school feeding programme, supported by WFP, helped 3 million children in 2015. Concurrently, WFP provided food assistance to another 500,000 children in 4,300 schools.
In 2013, WFP and the government launched a school meals initiative, providing children with a freshly prepared meal made from fortified rice and oil, protein-rich pulses, and locally procured vegetables. Local women are working as cooks or earning an income by selling vegetables from their own gardens for the school meals in their village. These meals now reach 25,000 students.
Preparing for Disasters and the Effects of Climate Change
WFP pays 80,000 ultra-poor people, 70 percent of whom are women, in disaster-prone areas along the southern coastal belt and along major rivers to work on community infrastructure including embankments, roads, homesteads, flood and cyclone shelters as well as irrigation and drainage canals. These will help mitigate the risk of flooding and cyclones.
During the rainy season when earth work is difficult, participants attend training sessions where they learn about disaster preparedness, disaster risk reduction, climate-change adaptation and survival during crises.
Over the past 41 years, with WFP’s help, more than 27,000 km of roads and 17,000 km of embankments have been reconstructed; over 4,100 km of drainage/irrigation canals and 3,000 acres of water bodies have been re-excavated and brought back into productive use; 38 million trees have been planted; 25,200 homesteads were raised; and 1,000 emergency flood and cyclone shelters were repaireds.
Helping The Government To Reduce Poverty
WFP helps the government to improve social safety nets by providing training and other support to the Ministry of Women and Children Affairs. At the ministry, WFP’s focus is on helping ultra-poor women and their families move out of extreme poverty and improve their food security and nutritional status. WFP also helps the government to provide cash grants to women so they can start businesses.
In 2014, WFP helped the International Food Policy Research Institute to analyse different ways of providing social support in Bangladesh, including cash, food, and nutrition behaviour change communication. Using the findings of this study, a programme that distributed money and provided behavior change communication for women with small children was able to significantly reduce child stunting by 7.3 percent over two years
Assisting Refugees and Ultra-Poor in Cox's Bazar
WFP works with the government, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and NGOs to provide food assistance to more than 32,000 registered refugees from Myanmar living in two camps in Cox’s Bazar district. Due to restrictions on movement and employment, many refugees have no regular income and are highly dependent on assistance.
WFP provides debit cards that allow refugees to buy food in the camps. In addition, special food assistance is provided to pregnant and nursing women, young children and schoolchildren.
WFP also provides micronutrient-fortified biscuits to children in primary and pre-schools as well as to older children in non-formal primary education in the camps. These snacks encourage children to attend class, give them the energy to focus and cover a large part of their micronutrient needs
Rice makes up the largest part of most people’s daily diet in Bangladesh. WFP has been working with the government and the private sector to fortify rice with essential vitamins and minerals to reduce micronutrient deficiencies in high-risk groups, such as women and children. 500,000 people will be receiving the rice by 2016.
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