A healthy emergency

In an emergency, a quick nutritional response is key to recovery

Claudia Altorio
Apr 30, 2019 · 6 min read

Not only did Cyclone Idai take lives and destroy livelihoods after smashing into Mozambique on the night of 14 March 2019, it also sent thousands of people scrambling for safety and shelter. In the provinces of Manica, Sofala, Tete and Zambezia, some 80,000 people — including women and children — have sought refuge in more than 60 temporary accommodation centers.

IFAPA temporary accommodation center in Beira. Photo: WFP/Claudia Altorio

In mid-April I visited an accommodation center in Beira. Located at the Institute for Training of Public Administration (IFAPA), the shelter — or temporary accommodation center — is home to some 2,000 displaced people, many of them women and children from the village of Buzi.

I was expecting to be met with a sense of hopelessness and fear. Instead, the women were strong and determined to recover and re-build what they had lost. They were ‘getting on with it’, busying themselves with washing clothes, cooking, styling each other’s hair and tending to their children. I was intrigued and needed to hear their stories.

What struck me most as I walked around were the children — full of energy running around, laughing, playing board games and skipping. I expected the children to be weak, sleeping or crying — typical signs of malnutrition. After all, I was told that there was a high prevalence of acute malnutrition, above 10 percent, in several accommodation centers where nutrition screening had been conducted.

While 42 percent of the country’s children were physically stunted prior to this emergency, screenings at accommodation centers in Beira showed global acute malnutrition rates as high as 26.8 percent.

So, how could the children be so happy and full of life as they danced to the beats of music blasting from around the center? And how could the mothers have the energy to be so resilient?

I spoke with Louisa Ernesto, a mother of three whose husband managed to get them space on a boat from Buzi to Beira after the cyclone ripped their house apart. I met her at the government ministry of health run clinic in IFAPA, as she stood in a queue for a follow-up health screening. She had a huge smile on her face as I approached her.

“I arrived here a couple of weeks ago. My husband insisted I come here with the children after he heard that there is a clinic in IFAPA. There was no space on the boat for him, he stayed behind,” she says. “My baby Julia was found to have malnutrition, so the clinic gave me special food to give her for 15 days. She is already much stronger and has gained weight,” she adds. “First, they measured her head, then her arms and then her height. They told me she could not digest normal food because she is malnourished, that she needed special food and that without it she would be at risk of catching malaria or cholera because her body is not strong.”

Baby Julia is nine months old and one of thousands of children under 5 who are receiving a ready-to-use supplementary food for children who are found to have moderate to acute malnutrition. Pregnant women and breastfeeding mothers receive a highly fortified cereal, which allows them to remain healthy as they breastfeed their children — a great way of keeping children healthy, protecting them from disease and preventing malnutrition.

Over a period of six months, the World Food Programme (WFP) plans to support the Ministry of Health’s Rehabilitation Programme by meeting the nutritional needs of 58,000 children under the age of 5 and 44,000 pregnant and breastfeeding women, including people with HIV, across four provinces and 41 districts.

The WFP nutrition team deployed nutritionists to Mozambique on the onset of the emergency to train partners on the ground and hospital staff on food preparations, utilization of specialized foods, storage and reporting, supporting the Provincial Health Directorate on the roll- out and scale-up of the National Nutrition Rehabilitation Program in accommodation centers in the four worst-hit provinces. WFP worked in close coordination with other UN agencies and NGOs in an effort to curb the risk of malnutrition rising as a result of the disaster.

The temporary accommodation centers initially conducted blanket health screening to all those who sought refuge and administered cholera vaccinations. Now, volunteers walk tent to tent encouraging women to visit the clinic. The medical centers also support people who suffer from HIV and AIDS, TB and cholera. As cholera continues to rise, WFP supports the response with the provision of ready-to-eat high energy biscuits as a breakfast for cholera patients and caregivers at MSF-supported cholera treatment centers in Beira.

This nutrition initiative supports the government of Mozambique’s larger nutrition programme and in this framework WFP also provides nutritious meals to 15,000 people living with HIV — as such vulnerable to malnutrition — hosted in centres in Beira and Buzi.

I met Beatrice Malima who gave birth to baby Simona on the night that Cyclone Idai struck her home in Chiquezqana, Buzi. “He is one month old today, he is a survivor.” She says quietly. “When I arrived here he was bleeding from his nose and had a high fever. I went to the clinic and they helped him and gave me a special porridge to eat every day. He is now eating well too. We are both better.”

Beatrice and her young family all made it to IFAPA. They were smallholder farmers, but their home and crops have been destroyed and all their goats have drowned. Despite this, and in the face of such adversity, she smiles as she looks at her husband Nhica saying they will build another farm, after they have all regained their strength.

Beatrice and Nhica with baby Simona. Photo: WFP/Claudia Altorio

I now understood, as a mother myself, why the women are so optimistic. It is because their children are healthy. They are receiving nutritional support. As every parent knows, if your child is healthy, then all could be or is fine in the world. It allows a parent to plan ahead.

As for the energetic children? Well, regardless of where they live, healthy kids are happy kids, they play.

In an emergency, food aid can save lives, but the right nutrition at the right time can change lives.

To date, the following government donors have confirmed or pledged support towards WFP’s emergency humanitarian response in Mozambique:

UN CERF, European Union, Switzerland, United States of America, United Kingdom, Ireland, Germany, Norway, Japan, Canada, Sweden, United Arab Emirates, Spain, Qatar, Iceland, Brazil and Monaco

WFP is also grateful for the timely support from online private donors as well as from the private sector:

Louis Dreyfus Foundation, Vale Mozambique, Stop Hunger

Please help WFP save the lives of those affected by cyclones Idai and Kenneth. Donate now.

World Food Programme Insight

Insight by The World Food Programme