Pakistan: Special Foods Help Flood Family Fight Malnutrition

Ghulam Sughram, a mother of five, is learning how to protect her children from malnutrition with the help of specialised food products from WFP. Copyright: WFP/Frances Kennedy

Amid growing concerns about disease and malnutrition among the millions of Pakistanis displaced by catastrophic flooding, WFP is providing nutritious ready-to-use foods designed to stem child malnutrition. The province of Sindh – which already had some of the worst nutrition indicators before the disaster – is particularly at risk.

LARKANA – Ghulam Sughram is a mother of five children who lives with another 350 displaced families squeezed into a girls’ school complex in Larkana, the birthplace of former Pakistani president Benazir Bhutto. Rain has turned the large leafy gardens into a swamp and there are just a handful of toilets for the mass of people.

Ghullam left her home in the ShahdadKot shortly before it was swallowed up by flood waters ten days ago. In her arms, her youngest child Ali Bux, showing signs of malnutrition, whimpers. He is two years old but seems much younger – underweight and tiny for his age.

Already poor

“We were very poor and struggled to put food on the table for the little ones, and I no longer can breast feed,” she said. “Now after the floods we have nothing at all – unless we get food given to us we simply cannot eat.”

Ghullam stands patiently in line with other anxious looking women, clad in brilliant coloured cotton garments. Camp organisers had gathered pregnant women and those with young children to receive special peanut-flavoured supplementary food from the WFP. This is in addition to the one-month ration of fortified wheat flour, 4.5 litres of cooking oil and the 4kg of high energy biscuits that each family here receives.

“I am worried because Ali Bux has no strength and since we fled the floods he is crying a lot,” she said, caressing her son’s tiny legs.

The women gather around for a brief explanation in the local language Sindhi, on how the specialised food should be consumed. A flier is handed out too, but many of the women here cannot read.

Plumpy Doz is a fortified peanut paste that is used to treat or prevent moderate malnutrition.

Situation grim

“It is vital that the women understand clearly how the nutritional products are used – often they are taken by spoonful several times a day. They need to know that it is not to be given all at once but over several days,” said WFP Food Monitor Humaria Sheikh.

She says the impact of the floods on already food insecure people was evident in many of the camps they visit and cramped conditions are fuelling the spread of disease.

The situation is grim for the hundreds of thousands who are camped out in the open along highways across the flooded areas.

The risk of malnutrition among those who have lost everything in the floods is particularly worrying in Sindh.  Even before the monsoon disaster – stunting rates there were  44.2 percent, compared to a national average of 36.8 percent. In the rural areas, where many of the displaced come from, malnutrition is even more pronounced.