Bangladesh Food Lifeline In Jeopardy

Some 65 million Bangladeshis cannot meet their basic food needs and malnourishment is the underlying cause of 50% of child deaths.

Copyright: WFP/Natasha Scripture

Fancy Rajshahi, a 40-year-old Bangladeshi woman who lives in grinding poverty, was thrilled earlier this year when she started to receive bags of fortified wheat flour from WFP to help nourish her three boys. Now it seems her good luck could be about to vanish.

GAIBANDAH, northwestern Bangladesh – Fancy, who was abandoned by her husband a few years ago and now lives in a bamboo hut with her children, is one of a million vulnerable people who will cease to get WFP support unless new funding arrives by the end of the year.

Before becoming a WFP beneficiary, Fancy would regularly skip meals in order to save the little rice she earned as a part-time maid for her children. But even then it wasn’t enough to give them the basic nutrition they need. The wheat flour she now receives has made a huge difference.

“There is no way I could do it without this flour. How else would I be able to feed my children?” said Fancy, her bony hands rolling out chapati, a flatbread made of wheat flour widely eaten in South Asia. “I am very grateful to WFP,” she said as she handed the piping hot bread to three hungry boys waiting patiently by the stove.

Monthly rations

Fancy is a beneficiary of the Vulnerable Group Development (VGD) programme – a joint initiative between WFP and the Government of Bangladesh which provides monthly rations of fortified wheat flour and training over a two-year period to the country’s most marginalised women.

The unprecedented shortfall in funds means WFP in Bangladesh has run out of money for programmes, such as VGD and the Community Nutrition programme, which provides fortified blended food to severely malnourished lactating mothers, adolescent girls and children.

At present it seems that WFP will be forced to cut vital food assistance to more than 50% of its beneficiaries in Bangladesh – including Fancy -- by the end of the year.

Worst time

“The food security and nutritional situation in Bangladesh is dramatic,” said John Aylieff, WFP’s Country Director in Bangladesh.  “More than 2 million children are acutely malnourished, and malnutrition rates are higher than in many parts of Africa.  The cuts in our funding could not come at a worst time.”

The suspension of WFPs programmes will force many women to adopt harmful coping mechanisms, such as fasting, skipping meals, selling the few assets they still have, and in extreme cases even resorting to prostitution.

And Fancy – already worn thin by hardship - will soon have to return to meals of rice and salt, leaving her children vulnerable to the ravages of malnutrition.