Guest post by David Shanklin, Senior Health Specialist, ChildFund International
ChildFund works in many countries with pastoral, nomadic cultures, including the Samburu and Turkana tribes in Kenya. The children and families within these communities tread a thin line between healthy and malnourished.
A number of environmental factors may influence the food security of a family, or entire regions of families. Natural disasters such as earthquakes, flooding, and drought tend to push these marginalized families from adequate food stores to a position of food insecurity.
During the worst of these times, as we saw in the Horn of Africa in 2011, families will sell their livestock, seed stock and even their land in order to buy food at inflated prices to feed their children.
Even in the best of times, hunger can be severe in the interim between planting a new crop and harvesting it. At this critical point, last year’s stocks have been consumed and there are no more family resources to purchase food. That is the case right now in western Africa, where ChildFund is responding to a food crisis in The Gambia.
“Last year’s rains were not very favorable to me and the children because I could only harvest a few crops to sell and to feed the family,” says Fatou, a mother struggling to feed a household with 11 members. “There is very little coming in from the groundnuts that I am selling. This money is what I save to buy other dry crops to feed the family. However, food prices are very high at the market.”
Families often run out of food due to insufficient harvests and poor methods of food preservation and storage. These circumstances can easily push an impoverished family into a life-threatening situation. After they’ve sold the roofs over their heads, families begin walking in an attempt to find food. Many children, weak from malnutrition, die along the way.
Children in nomadic families also often get missed in government growth monitoring screenings, and their malnutrition goes unaddressed. In addition, movement of families can lead to negative nutritional patterns for children—irregular meals, low-nutrient foods and stress all spell danger for children in their growing years.
ChildFund’s Early Child Development programs play a vital intervention role in food emergency situations. Last year in the Horn of Africa, young children in ChildFund programs received at least one hot meal a day through ECD programs. Local communities rallied around the ECDs, adding their support with in-kind help, including firewood, assistance with preparing meals and sometimes water for cooking and washing.
When parents and communities have a clear understanding of the long-term impact of malnutrition on their children, the chances for child survival improve by leaps and bounds.