Fighting malnutrition in The Gambia critical during the lean season

The World Food Programme (WFP) and partners gear up for much needed nutrition assistance thanks to the EU

Isatou Njai
Sep 28, 2017 · 3 min read

Life can be difficult for many during the June — October lean season. This is especially true for mothers in the Central River Region (CRR) of The Gambia, where one in every five people is food insecure (2016 CFSA). These mothers, however, can hope for better days this year thanks to WFP’s forthcoming assistance, financed by the European Union, to fight malnutrition amongst women and children under 5.

The UN World Food Programme (WFP), in partnership with the government, UNICEF and other humanitarian agencies, is actively screening children under the age of 5 in order to prioritize nutrition support especially during the hungry (or lean) season.

For many communities in CRR, the lean season brings scarcity of main food staples such as rice and other grains, high food prices and depleted reserves. In addition, the rains continually destroy roads, which affects the ability of families access health facilities.

With WFP going from community to community registering children, the people of Bansang are optimistic for a turnaround. Parents, including fathers, bring forth their children.

Hawa, a single mother and a grandmother, eagerly rushes to the registration centre with her granddaughter, Fatoumatta, who is not as keen to join the crowd. Almost three years of age, Fatoumatta appears weak, with protruding eyes — a sign of malnutrition. When measured, her Mid-Upper Arm Circumference (MUAC) showed 11.6, indicating that she is moderately malnourished.

Two-year-old Fatoumatta at the nutrition screening with her grandmother Hawa. Photo: WFP/Isatou Njai

“We look forward to WFP’s nutrition support,” says Hawa. “It will ease the suffering of our families and improve the health of our children.”

Mam Boye, a member of the village Volunteer Support Group (VSG) participates in the screening exercise at Kerr Ousman Boye. Photo: WFP/Isatou Njai

Hunger and malnutrition rates remain alarming across the country, especially in rural areas. According to the 2015 Standardized Monitoring and Assessment of Relief and Transitions (SMART) survey, national stunting rates are at a critical 24.9 percent, with Kuntaur and Janjanbureh in CRR showing scores above the national average, at 31.5 and 28.6 percent respectively. The prevalence of global acute malnutrition (GAM) is 10.3 percent, up from 9.9 percent in 2012. About two in four Gambians (48.6 percent) live below the poverty line, and one in every thirteen households (8 percent of the population) is considered food insecure.

Screening exercise at Bansang with the support of The Gambia Red Cross Society and the National Disaster Management Agency (NDMA). Photo: WFP/Isatou Njai

Under the EU-funded “Post-Crisis Response to Food and Nutrition Insecurity in The Gambia”, implemented jointly with UNICEF and FAO and in partnership with The Gambia Government, WFP seeks to provide specialized nutritious foods to prevent and treat malnutrition among infants and young children as well as pregnant and nursing women. The project — running for a 30-month period — targets an estimated 40, 000 children under two (6–23 months) for prevention, more than 16, 000 children under 5 (6–59 months) for treatment of moderate acute malnutrition, and 7, 500 pregnant and nursing women for treatment of acute malnutrition.

WFP driver Banno Bah helps Kerr Ousman Boye Community settle down for screening and registration. Photo: WFP/Isatou Njai

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