CAFOD’s Laura Donkin explains some of the different ways agencies like CAFOD distribute food.
In situations like last year’s drought in East Africa, there are several ways in which we assist people who need food.
Food AidWhere possible, we try to get hold of food supplied by the World Food Programme, who are the specialist UN food agency and who have huge warehouses of food. We then distribute it through our local partners.
The World Food Programme usually try to buy food in the country or region where it’s needed, as shipping food from overseas is costly, time-consuming and can cause problems for the local economy. The standard ration they supply is 2,100 kcal per person per day. However, in practice there is often not enough food to go round, so people sometimes receive less.
If we can’t get food from the World Food Programme or other organisations, we buy food locally through our partners.
The organisations we work with try to distribute the food as close to people’s homes as possible - the guideline is within a day’s walk. However, this is not always possible in remote areas with bad roads.
Cash and vouchers
In recent years, we have also started giving people money or vouchers to buy their own food. This is only possible where there is food available in the local markets.
The advantage of this approach is that it tends to be faster and cheaper than giving people food. Most importantly, it gives people greater flexibility and dignity – they have the power to buy what they need.
In situations where there are shortages of food, we try to screen all children under five, as well as pregnant and breast-feeding mothers, for malnutrition. We then give supplementary food to those who need it most.
Malnutrition is measured by taking the weight and height of the child and the measurement of the circumference of their upper arm. The results of the measurements categorise people into three groups: normal, moderately malnourished or severely malnourished.
Those who are identified as moderately malnourished are given a fortnightly or monthly supply of a supplementary food, usually UNIMIX. This is a dry flour, made from corn or wheat, oil, milk powder and beans or chickpeas, with added vitamins and minerals. It can be boiled up into a porridge to eat at home.
Children under five years old who are severely malnourished but not sick can be treated at home with plumpynut. This is a sweet peanut paste in a sachet which is really nutritious, so it makes children put on weight fast. It tastes a bit like Snickers.
Children under five years old who are so malnourished that they are sick require specialist medical attention. They would usually spend more than two weeks in a hospital or clinic and be given special highly nutritional milk. They could very gradually build up to a normal diet. It can be hard for carers to spend this time in the hospital when they have other children to care for.
Tackling hunger in the longer term
In order to tackle hunger in the long-term, there is, of course, a need to support people to earn a living or to grow their own food. We do this through a wide range of projects: supporting people with seeds and tools, giving them goats which produce milk and which they can breed, or training them to set up a small business selling jam or handicrafts.
Laura Donkin is our Emergency Response Officer for Africa. She has supported partners responding to drought in East Africa, conflict in Sri Lanka and the earthquake in Pakistan. Laura is working on projects providing nutrition and cash grants and supporting partners to prepare for emergencies.