Sahel Crisis: WFP Nutritionists Answer 5 Questions

This year’s hunger crisis in the Sahel brought with it a strong risk that many children would fall into malnutrition – the effects of which can be irreversible. In this Q&A, our West Africa team of nutritionists explain what WFP’s response has been and talk about some of the challenges faced.
1. What sort of programmes has WFP implemented to prevent malnutrition?
We do this through an activity called “blanket feeding”, whereby WFP provides nutritious food to all members of a vulnerable group in high risk areas to prevent them from becoming malnourished. We usually focus on children under 2 years, pregnant women and new mothers. This is a region where approximately 20 percent of children die before the age of five and malnutrition is an associated cause of more than 30 percent of these deaths, even outside of food and nutrition crisis periods.
Acute malnutrition can lead to 'wasting', or severe weight-loss. Focusing our response on malnourished children under 5 years, pregnant women and new mothers, we help affected people recover by providing nutritious rations and specialised products to supplement their daily diets.
Southern Mali 
finasse sitting with a baby

Finasse, who lives in the Kayes region of southern Mali, has a nine-month-old son who has moderate acute malnutrition and is enrolled in one of WFP’s treatment programmes. He receives Plumpy’sup, a specialized nutritious food to help him recover. Two months into the treatment, her son had started to gain weight and recover. 

2. How can you be sure people use these special products correctly?

Mothers who accompany children to the distribution sites and health centres are shown how best to store and use the ready-to-use foods, such as Plumpy’doz and Plumpy’sup, and in the case of Super Cereal Plus—a fortified corn and soy flour enhanced with micronutrients and dried milk—how to prepare the ration into a fortified porridge. This helps ensure that the ration has the biggest impact on the child’s nutrition status.

3. How does WFP know which children are malnourished?
At blanket feeding distribution sites, children are screened to check their nutrition status. WFP and NGO partners measure children’s mid-upper arm circumference (MUAC) to determine whether they are malnourished. Children who are identified as malnourished are referred to hospitals and clinics so they can receive the assistance they need. The treatment programmes are supported by WFP and other UN agencies, including UNICEF. Those who are not malnourished, but are part of the most vulnerable age groups also receive a ration to prevent their health from deteriorating.
4. What challenges has WFP encountered?
Several challenges continue to limit WFP’s ability to provide nutritional assistance. In Mali, for example, the current instability and security constraints have made it difficult to find cooperating partners, causing delays in some nutrition activities. In countries like Cameroon and Chad, the start of the rainy season makes roads impassable, limiting access to communities and remote distribution sites. Because of this, where possible, WFP positions nutritious foods in advance to continue providing assistance during the hunger season. 
5. What lessons that WFP has learned so far?
Laying out a regional strategy for the nutrition response early on has helped WFP to ensure that programmes are harmonised across the countries affected by this year’s crisis. The timely recognition of and consensus around the approaching crisis by all key stakeholders, including national and donor governments, helped WFP and partners to mobilize an early response.