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The Hunger and Malnutrition Threat in Pakistan

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It was just last year I wrote an op-ed in The Durham Herald-Sun titled “Lessons for Other War in Pakistan.” At that time, over two million Pakistanis were displaced by the fighting between the government and the Taliban. They escaped the conflict zone, but were soon met by the relentless enemy of hunger and malnutrition.

The UN World Food Programme (WFP) and other agencies have been helping these Pakistanis since that time. Now massive floods have struck their country, a disaster of record proportion. Estimates are that up to six million people will need food assistance, but this number could rise even higher. The flooding has destroyed many crops within an already food-insecure country.

I asked Wolfgang Herbinger, the WFP country director of Pakistan, about the food stocks for the emergency operation. WFP has already had humanitarian hubs set up in the country to help those displaced (IDPs) by the war.

Herbinger said on Wednesday, “We have stocks and newly arriving food to feed six million flood victims for one month. However, much would be through internal borrowing from other projects. To date we have confirmed donations of USD 13 million for the flood victims. For three months distribution we need USD 150 million. We expect a peak figure of six million flood victims receiving WFP food assistance. So far we reached 400,000 in the province that was first hit…. IDP operation continues in parallel, more than one million people receive monthly food rations.”

Given such a widespread crisis, the risk of child malnutrition looms large, with the very young extremely vulnerable. I inquired about special foods, like Plumpy’nut, that would be needed to stop malnutrition from taking hold on small children. Herbinger replied there is a great need for Plumpy’doz, a variation of Plumpy’nut.

Edesia, the U.S.-based Plumpy’nut producer, describes Plumpy’doz as “a Ready-to-Use Supplementary Food (RUSF) used to reduce the incidence of acute malnutrition in children 6 to 36 months during times of food insecurity. It should be used as a supplement to traditional food and it is well suited for emergency humanitarian situations.”

The United States will need to provide the leadership in rallying the world to help Pakistan. A State Department press release said that “approximately $76 million in assistance is being provided by the U.S. to flood-affected populations in Pakistan… to provide emergency shelter, food, health care, clean water and sanitation.”

For the food component of this relief, the “U.S. has supplied a month’s ration of food to about 191,000 people through our partnership with the World Food Program. U.S.-funded food rations currently are reaching about 20,000 people per day… the U.S. is providing Save the Children (SCF) with $4.1 million for food vouchers enabling flood victims to purchase food in their local markets.”

The crisis facing Pakistan is a huge challenge for the international community. First is the emergency response to save lives and then follows a reconstruction that will need food as the foundation. This food can also provide hope for Pakistanis and offer the best chance for peace in their conflict-torn and impoverished country.

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About William Lambers

William Lambers is the author of several books including Ending World Hunger: School Lunches for Kids Around the World. This book features over 50 interviews with officials from the UN World Food Programme and other charities discussing school feeding programs that fight child hunger. He is also the author of Nuclear Weapons, The Road to Peace: From the Disarming of the Great Lakes to the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty, Open Skies for Peace, The Spirit of the Marshall Plan: Taking Action Against World Hunger, School Lunches for Kids Around the World, The Roadmap to End Global Hunger, From War to Peace and the Battle of Britain. He is also a writer for the History News Service. His articles have been published by newspapers including the Cincinnati Enquirer, Des Moines Register, the New York Times, San Francisco Chronicle, Buffalo News, San Diego Union Tribune, the Providence Journal, Free Lance-Star (VA), the Bakersfield Californian, the Washington Post, Miami Herald (FL), Chicago Sun-Times, the Patriot Ledger (MA), Charleston Sunday Gazette Mail (WV), the Cincinnati Post, Salt Lake Tribune (UT), North Adams Transcript (MA), Wichita Eagle (KS), Monterey Herald (CA), Athens Banner-Herald (GA) and the Duluth News Journal. His articles also appear on History News Network (HNN) and Think Africa Press. Mr. Lambers is a graduate of the College of Mount St. Joseph in Ohio with degrees in Liberal Arts (BA) and Organizational Leadership (MS). He is also a member of the Feeding America Blogger Council.