Tsunami silver lining seen for war on malnutrition
COLOMBO, January 16: Asia's tsunami is likely to have worsened malnutrition around the Indian Ocean's rim, but a massive drive to feed hundreds of thousands of survivors may end up reducing it, the United Nations' food arm says.
The World Food Programme is feeding around 1.2 million tsunami-affected people from Sumatra to Somalia, with the bulk of recipients in Sri Lanka.
Executive Director James Morris is confident food aid is reaching most people in need.
"I suspect (malnutrition is) marginally higher, but also there will be a more intense effort to see that every child is fed, so it may affect it positively -- there may be some silver lining here," Morris told Reuters in an interview on Sunday.
"It's a very small silver lining. The problem is enormous, but we're very focused on seeing that everyone at risk here has a calorie diet of 2,100 calories per day, and that may be a little more than some ... have had traditionally in their diet."
The U.N. agency is feeding around 750,000 people in Sri Lanka, many of whom lost everything when giant waves battered the island's southern, eastern and northern seaboard on Dec.26, killing around 31,000 people.
Hundreds of thousands are depending on food handouts and children are among the most vulnerable.
"The percentage of malnutrition among children here is very high -- 35 percent in the general population -- and in places where the poverty is greater, malnutrition among children goes up, so it's a considerable problem," Morris said.
The World Food Programme's (WFP) food basket includes rice, wheat flour, pulses, beans, legumes and vegetable oil. The agency also hands out high-protein biscuits and a high-energy blend of corn and soya.
FISH OFF MENU FOR NOW
Morris is considering adding canned fish to the list, as many Sri Lankans are wary of eating fresh fish, a staple part of their diet, for fear they have scavenged on the remains of tsunami victims.
"There are no examples so far of serious, large numbers of people being affected by health problems," Morris said.
The World Food Programme was already feeding around 1 million Sri Lankans before the tsunami struck under other projects, so it had stocks in place and other food was made available on ships diverted by the United States and Japan.
Morris toured the historic southern city of Galle on Saturday, which was all but flattened by the tsunami save for a 17th century Dutch fort, and said he was surprised and encouraged at the pace of the clean-up operation.
The WFP is feeding between 300,000 to 400,000 people hit by the tsunami in Indonesia, between 25,000-50,000 people in the remote Maldives island chain off the toe of India, around 15,000 people in Myanmar and 20,000 people in Somalia.
The tsunami killed more than 163,000 people, the vast majority of them in Indonesia. Thousands more are missing.