Ten Thousand Volunteers Descend on Nepal to Battle Child Malnutrition

UNICEF responds to the crisis as the country struggles with a post-quake food shortage.

Nepalese earthquake survivors queue for relief food at an open-ground shelter in Kathmandu. (Photo: Prakash Mathema)

Jul 14, 2015· 1 MIN READ
David McNair is an award-winning reporter and editor based in Charlottesville, Va. He runs the hyper-local news site The DTM and his fiction has appeared in Virginia Quarterly Review.

Even before a devastating magnitude-7.8 earthquake hit central Nepal in April, claiming nearly 9,000 lives and destroying more than 500,000 homes, the country had one of the world’s highest rates of child malnutrition. More than half the children in Nepal were stunted, according to a 2001 government study; while that rate dropped to 41 percent by 2011, officials now fear the quake has set progress back by a decade.

“The earthquake destroyed everything, including our food reserves,” Shanti Maharjan, a 26-year-old mother with a newborn, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation. Like many whose homes were reduced to rubble, Maharjan, her husband, and five other people live in a shelter made of corrugated iron sheets and make do with few resources. “There is not enough food. Getting meat, oil, and fruits to eat is difficult in this situation. I am worried about my daughter’s nourishment,” she said.

Responding to the crisis, government authorities supported by UNICEF have launched an effort to supply food and medicine to 500,000 women and children in Nepal, Reuters reports. More than 10,000 health care volunteers will visit 14 districts that were devastated by the earthquake to distribute vitamin A, iron, folic acid, and other supplements to expectant mothers and encourage them to breast-feed and eat any available local vegetables and meats.

“[Poor] nutrition is a very big problem,” a health ministry official told Reuters. “The earthquake will further worsen the situation because people simply don’t have enough to eat, let alone have a nutritious diet.”

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Seventy percent of Nepalese children under the age of two suffer from iron deficiency anemia, according to government officials.

So, Why Should You Care? Stunting is caused by a chronic lack of nutrition in the very early, critical stages of a child’s development—the time between conception and the second birthday—leading to damage that can’t be undone as the child grows older, according to UNICEF. “Stunting is a specific measure of the height of a child compared to the age of the child, and it is indicative of how well the child is developing cognitively,” Peter Oyloe, director for nutrition at Save the Children Nepal, told IPS last year. “Reducing stunting among children increases their chances of reaching their full development potential, which in turn will have a long term impact on families’, communities’, and the country’s ability to thrive.”

Aid worker Urmila Sharma Dahal recently treated a two-year-old boy who weighed just 16.5 pounds, offering his family a ready-made paste of peanut, sugar, milk powder, vitamin, and oil, according to Reuters. The boy then gained 2.2 pounds in a week.

“It does not take much. It can be done with small but right interventions,” she said.