New food program prevents kids from going hungry


May 26, 2012

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    Kaja Wislinska/Mercy Corps  </span>
    Two-year-old Amat was recently treated for severe malnutrition. Now her mother Amina will receive food vouchers from Mercy Corps to help feed her children. Photo: Kaja Wislinska/Mercy Corps

Milk? Vegetables? Women from Mawza District in central Yemen laugh. “We dream about the taste of milk, vegetables and fruits.” The reason? Mafi fuloos, they answer — no money.

Two-year old Amat Al Rahman suffers from severe malnutrition. Children her age should reach the weight of 10kg (nearly 23lbs); Amat weighs only 5.5kg (just over 12lbs). Recently she was admitted to the Outpatient Therapeutic Unit at Mawza Health Center, where she is slowly gaining weight thanks to therapeutic feeding. But Amat’s mother, Amina, has lost hope that she will ever catch up on her growth.

And after her daughter is discharged from the clinic, Amina worries about how she will continue feeding Amat and her other children.

Now, Mercy Corps is working with health centers here in the Taiz Governorate to help families like Amina’s secure enough food for their children. Over 11 months, the new food security program funded by USAID’s Food for Peace will provide vouchers to 7,200 vulnerable households in Mawza, Mokha, Dhudab and Al Waziyah Districts that have been referred to the program through therapeutic clinics.

Poverty and chronic malnutrition a way of life

The staple diet of the average rural household in central Yemen consists of just bread, rice and bean sauce. Sometimes there is fish, but Nagat, a midwife from Mawza Health Center, says even if it is available, it is usually reserved for men. The goal of the program is to prevent children going hungry as Yemen’s population has become increasingly food insecure.

The World Food Program’s latest research indicates that families across the country can no longer afford basic supplies. Approximately 56% of respondents said they do not to have enough money to buy food, which is a dramatic increase from 26% in 2009. Specifically, in this region, 40% are suffering from chronic malnutrition, and 14% from acute malnutrition.

Malnutrition has been a chronic problem in poverty-ridden Yemen, one of the poorest countries in the Middle East. Since it is entirely import-dependent, food prices are incredibly high, and there are few employment opportunities. The situation has now reached crisis level, exacerbated by the deteriorating security conditions and widespread displacement.

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Little Amat’s family of eight mostly lives on assistance from Social Welfare, which amounts to 10,000 Yemeni Riyal (approximately $46) every three months. How much does the amount last for? Women are laughing again: “We hardly notice it.” Other sources of income are petty trade in Taiz; the girl’s father sells dry fish in the market because the demand for this commodity is much higher in the capital city than in Mawza. He brings home an additional 5,000-6,000 YER ($23-26) sporadically.

The family survives on 1,000 YER a day (less than $5). What can you buy with this? Khobez, shahi, rouz and sanoumah, they respond. A little bread, tea, rice, sauce.

Vouchers supply nutritious food

Mercy Corps developed the voucher system to help struggling families, mainly women and children, obtain 25kg of wheat flour, 7kg of rice, two liters of oil and 24 cans of beans from the local market. Every month, families choose when and where to shop for their basic commodities, allowing them more freedom than direct food distribution. (The supplemental funds also support the local economy.) The quantities are calculated to meet 30% of daily caloric needs of a family of seven.

Since rural Yemenis also struggle with poor food diversity and a lack of nutritional awareness, we are also teaching families — especially pregnant and nursing women — about the importance of higher quality ingredients (fortified oil and wheat flour, for example) and more varied preparations.

As Yemen struggles toward stability, it may take time to realize improved health care, decreased violence and a stronger economy; until then, we are working to help Amat and many other Yemeni children grow up healthy.

Help us feed hungry families in Yemen and in many of the world’s toughest places. Donate today.