about the author
Spokesperson - Global Issues
A former journalist, Frances works as a Public Information officer at WFP's Rome headquarters.
As millions of flood victims across Pakistan struggle to feed their children, the country's already high levels of malnutrition risk climbing above the emergency threshold. A nutritionist working in southern Sindh province, Bilan Osman Jama explains what’s being done to keep this epic natural disaster from becoming a child-hunger crisis.
What is a nutritionist’s role in an emergency like the Pakistan floods?
My job is to put together a food basket, which basically consists of figuring out what types of foods and in what quantities will make the best nutritional package for people affected by the floods. I'm also responsible for determining which food products to use in the case of infants and pregnant women, who have special nutritional needs.
What have you been doing in the field and in HQ?
Right now I’m based in Sindh, a province in southern Pakistan, where we’re trying to keep pace with a fast-moving situation. Nutrition is not a “stand-alone” effort; it’s strongly linked to other factors like hygiene and sanitation. So it’s crucial that we’re able to work with other agencies involved in those fields.
Who is most at risk?
Children under the age of five are usually the first group to suffer from malnutrition at the onset of a disaster. Other vulnerable groups include pregnant women and nursing mothers.
What’s the greatest threat from a nutritional standpoint?
We’re now several weeks into the disaster and many children haven’t eaten properly in a long time. In almost every single camp we’ve come across, there are children with both moderate and severe malnutrition. Unless we move quickly, the rates of illness and death among young children will start to rise.
What is WFP doing to prevent that from happening?
What we need now are more ready-to-use supplementary foods (RUSFs) – like fortified peanut or chick-pea pastes. In the meantime, we will be using the limited amounts of RUSFs that we have, while informing mothers and caregivers about what they can do to protect their children. In Sindh, WFP local staff translated the leaflet into the Sindhi language, but many rural women cannot read so the education sessions are vital.
What were the nutritional concerns in Pakistan before the floods?
Malnutrition rates in Pakistan were already high before the floods. The National Nutrition Survey in 2001-2002 put the acute malnutrition rate at 13 percent, which is alarming. Then in 2008, food prices shot up around the world and this had a major impact on how much and how well families were able to eat. That’s one reason WFP had such a strong presence in Pakistan before the floods.