Mothers lead their children for registration for the new programme, in Kaabong district. Copyright: Matteo Caravani.
Through a new initiative in the desolate Karamoja region, WFP is helping protect young children from stunting so they can reach their full potential.
The United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) has begun supporting early childhood development centres in Karamoja, catering for pre-school children aged three to five years, at the request of the Government of Uganda.
WFP is providing food or cash payments to the parents of children at 66 centres run the UN children’s agency, UNICEF. The assistance is given only to families whose children attend the play-based learning sessions on a regular basis and will, it is hoped, boost enrolment.
WFP’s support is primarily designed to address the high rates of stunted growth among the region’s children. It is estimated that half of all young children in Karamoja are affected by stunting or are short for their age. Stunting is a sign of malnutrition but it is not just about height. Stunted youngsters are more susceptible to disease and suffer from impaired mental development and health problems in later life.
“WFP already supports infants aged two and below and school-age children”, says WFP Country Director Stanlake Samkange. “What the new programme is doing fills a gap, enabling more children in Karamoja to meet their nutritional needs.”
WFP provides corn-soya blend (for making porridge for the children) as well as sugar and vegetable oil. A cash alternative is offered to those parents who have easy access to a local market.
Karamoja suffers a combination of hardships including droughts, extreme poverty, poor hygiene and limited job opportunities. As a result, there are severe food shortages and high rates of malnutrition among children.
Prolonged periods without adequate nutrition during a mother’s pregnancy and during a child’s early years can lead to chronic malnutrition and stunting. At the early childhood stage in particular, stunting can damage a child’s basic learning capacity, leading to poor performance in school and in later life.
“To appreciate the impact of hunger, you need to look at the long term”, says Samkange. “What happens at one stage of life affects later ones. The development of Karamoja depends on the next generation growing to their full physical and mental potential.”
The Spanish government enabled the early childhood development programme to take off, with a contribution of US$1.5 million.