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Last in line for food

Women and girls often get less to eat, as they are considered to need less food than men and boys
(Kamila Hyat/IRIN)

“We girls and our mothers eat last, after my four brothers, cousin and our fathers have finished. Sometimes there is almost nothing left to eat - but we are used to this,” Nasreena Bibi, 12, from northwestern Pakistan’s Bajaur tribal agency, told IRIN.

Her family has been based since early 2009 with an uncle in the town of Kohat, in North West Frontier Province (NWFP), after fleeing clashes between the army and Taliban militants.

Nasreena and her mother help her aunt cook for the 14 people living in the four-room house. But, like the other girls and women, she only eats a tiny fraction of what she prepares.

“The pattern is common in many homes. Women and girls get less to eat, as they are considered to need less food than men,” said Aisha Bibi, 40, a female health worker. “We try to educate people about the risks if expecting mothers, or girls who will one day become mothers, do not get enough to eat.”

Some 12 percent of children screened in displaced families, and their hosts, suffer moderate or acute malnutrition, with girls making up 58 percent of those affected, according to a 2 April humanitarian update by the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).

Health worker Bibi said the “strained food situation” in the homes of hosts supporting internally displaced persons (IDPs) for many months could be adding to nutritional problems.

According to official government data, the rate of malnutrition in conflict-affected NWFP and the Federally Administered Tribal Areas is 13 percent.

UNICEF targets young children, mothers

''Whenever we have an egg or two at hand I cook them for my husband, because he must do hard work as a labourer''

However, the problem is being addressed by humanitarian agencies and some improvements appear to have been made.

“At the start of 2009 the rate of acute malnutrition in the IDP camps was around 17 percent, but by the end of the year it was around 11 percent,” Muhammad Rafiq, programme specialist at the Peshawar office of the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), said. “This improvement can be attributed to an effort made to provide general food distribution, therapeutic and supplementary nutrition interventions, safe water supply and enhanced health and sanitation services in the IDP camps and affected communities.”

With the collaboration of the department of health and NGO partners, UNICEF is focusing, through community-based programmes, on addressing acute malnutrition in children under five and among pregnant and lactating women.

“The programme is also addressing micronutrient malnutrition through the provision of multiple micronutrient sprinkles to children - and tablets to pregnant women and feeding mothers - ensuring de-worming, and through vitamin A supplementation,” Rafiq said.

Some 6,179 pregnant or lactating women and 15,036 children are enrolled in a supplementary feeding programme run by humanitarian agencies, according to OCHA.

“I know I need to eat well. Doctors I saw at the Jalozai Camp in Nowshera, where we lived for a short time, told me I needed better food. But how can we get it? Whenever we have an egg or two at hand I cook them for my husband, because he must do hard work as a labourer,” said Haseeba Bibi, 35, an IDP from the Orakzai Agency who recently gave birth to her third child. She is currently based with a host family just outside Kohat.

“We are too poor to care for our welfare, and people at home, who stayed on in the conflict zone, are even worse off,” she said.


This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions

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