World Food Day provides a timely opportunity to remember the 925 million undernourished people living in the world today. As famine continues to affect millions of people living in the Horn of Africa, hunger has emerged as the world’s number one health risk with one in seven people not receiving sufficient food to lead a healthy, active life.
But each year, millions of hungry adults and children are helped by organisations such as the World Food Programme (WFP), whose food assistance supports communities struggling in the wake of humanitarian crises and natural disasters.
“Across the world, we are the bridge between hunger and hope for millions of people,” says WFP Executive Director, Josette Sheeran. “WFP is providing life-saving food assistance in the midst of crises like the drought in the Horn of Africa. In countries like Libya, we are supporting communities that are striving to recover from crisis, and in places like Haiti, we continue to work with governments and civil society to build resilience so that the vulnerable are better able to cope when the next disaster strikes.”
Often caused by natural disasters, poor agricultural infrastructure and conflict, hunger not only impacts the individual. It can also impose a huge economic burden on whole regions, and despite their aim to halve the proportion of hungry people in the world during the 21st century, the United Nations states that hunger has been on the rise since the early 1990s.
This year the theme for World Food Day, which falls on October 16, is ‘Food Prices – from Crisis to Stability’. The aim is to underline the role that food assistance, like that provided by WFP and other organizations, can play in protecting communities vulnerable to food price volatility.
Working in more than 70 countries around the world, WFP focuses on ‘the three defining pillars’ of relief, recovery and resilience in order to bring food assistance to almost 100 million people every year. In Laos, where over 40 per cent of children are stunted and 30 per cent of pregnant women are undernourished, that help is targeted towards those who need it most.
“The Lao People’s Democratic Republic is one of the world’s least developed countries. It is landlocked and mountainous, with significant parts of the country still inaccessible by road,” Aachal Chand, Head of Nutrition Unit at WFP Laos told MiNDFOOD. “Despite steady economic growth in Laos over the past ten years, people in rural areas still face food insecurity, poverty and recurring natural disasters. As a result, the nutritional status of the population remains a serious concern, with no significant change in chronic malnutrition rates over the past decade.”
Given the nature of the situation in Laos, Chand’s work centres around the WFP’s second pillar – that of addressing chronic malnutrition – and Chand is directly involved in two programs that are working towards this goal.
“The first one is a Mother and Child Health and Nutrition (MCHN) program which aims to prevent stunting in children under two years and to support pregnant and lactating women so they use health facilities more frequently,” Chand explains. “Our focus with this program is really on the first 1000 days of life. We provide specialised nutrition products for children under two years of age. These nutrition products help complete the children’s diet so they get enough calories and micronutrients on a daily basis.
“Additionally, we also provide food rations to encourage pregnant and lactating women to use health facilities. Rice is given each time a woman attends health checks before and after giving birth, and when she delivers her child in a health centre. These check-ups are very important to ensure women are progressing safely through their pregnancies and that they are able to deliver children under the supervision of health staff.”
The second initiative, called Feeding the Future, is aimed at increasing the nutritional knowledge of mothers and other caretakers of children to help bring about a change in their nutrition related behaviours. “Our trainers use culturally specific, interactive and enjoyable training tools and training messages are reinforced through cooking sessions, role plays and a nutrition game.” Chand says. “It is a lot of fun and has been shown to have positive impact at the village level.”
Chand, an Australian citizen who has worked in Laos for over four years, and who has already witnessed significant positive change in the country, believes there are a number of ways residents of Australia and New Zealand can facilitate change and join the fight against global hunger on World Food Day.
“Firstly, by learning about countries that are suffering from hunger and informing people about them, you can bring this important issue to the attention of the public and donor governments,” she says. “You can advocate online, subscribe to newsletters, and use interactive tools such as Free Rice (freerice.com) to start your fight against hunger.”
As well as providing financial support to the organisations working to address the problems of hunger and malnutrition, Chand also believes people can help by contributing their technical skills and expertise. “If you have expertise in nutrition and food security, you can contribute by working in regions where there is a hunger crisis. Australians also have the opportunity to be involved in volunteer programmes such as the Australian Youth Ambassador for Development (AYAD).”
Find out more about the work being done by the WFP at wfp.org