WB: Food Security for the Most Vulnerable, a Priority in Times of Crisis

December 6, 2012

New toolkit provides guidance on how to better protect poor mothers and children in Latin America and the Caribbean

Panama City, December 6, 2012 - A new toolkit released today seeks to ensure health, food and nutritional security for vulnerable mothers and their children in Latin America and the Caribbean in the event an external economic shock or natural disaster.

Designed by World Bank experts, the how-to handout provides nutrition emergency response guidance to policy makers and practitioners in the region, gathering at a specialized conference December 6-7 to assess the initiative.

The toolkit offers policy and decision makers a clear guidance on:

  • Cost-efficient measures to help countries ensure the nutritional security of populations at risk, such as widely promoting breastfeeding and adapting food and water rations in times of emergency to the needs of pregnant and lactating women and children under 2 years of age;
  • Prevention of micronutrient deficiencies -lack of iron, folic acid, vitamin A, zinc, among others- during emergencies;
  • Treatment of acute malnutrition;
  • Efficient treatment of diarrhea through the combined use of oral rehydration solution and zinc.  

Latin America and Caribbean countries are more vulnerable to natural disasters, food price volatility and humanitarian crises than other regions, according to a study conducted as the basis for the toolkit. In this context, any new crisis and emergency situation take a heavy toll on the nutritional status of the population, notably children. It is estimated that 7.2 million children under five years of age are chronically malnourished in the region.

How to Protect and Promote the Nutrition of Mothers and Children:  A Toolkit for Stable, Crisis, and Emergency Situations” involved 130 survey participants in LAC 12 countries. It shows that most crisis-response policies and programs have overlooked the essential nutritional needs of mothers and their children in the first 1000 days of life, a critical period for a child's development. 

In order to eradicate malnourishment in the region, these initiatives need to be improved and prioritize the most vulnerable groups, the study notes.

The first 1000 days of life of a child is a critical window of opportunity for their growth and development. Failure to address the nutritional needs of mothers and children as part of crisis-management results in human suffering and missed opportunities for developing every person’s potential,” said Keith Hansen, World Bank Director for Human Development for Latin America and the Caribbean.

“This toolkit shows that initiatives successfully targeting the nutritional needs of pregnant and lactating mothers and young children are the best investments countries can make to protect the most vulnerable from food insecurities and socioeconomic and environmental instabilities,” added Hansen.

According to the research, these actions could also have a long-term impact on economic development and help break the intergenerational cycle of poverty brought about by malnutrition.

Malnutrition decreases children’s ability to resist infections and disease, such as anemia and diarrhea, and may cause lifelong physical and cognitive damages.  Malnutrition rates among the poorest and least educated people, including indigenous populations, are comparable to rates in some Sub-Saharan Africa countries, the report underlines.  It points out that when economic crises hit, the quality of food purchased by vulnerable families diminishes increasing malnutrition rates.

During a crisis, poor families tend to reduce the quantity and quality of the food they consume. They increase consumption of foods with refined sugar and fats, and they often cut down on preventive health services,” said Marie Chantal Messier, World Bank Senior Nutrition Specialist and lead author of the toolkit.

During harsh times, women frequently consume less food to protect their children's diet, which compromises their own nutritional security. If they are pregnant, this creates a cycle that harms both the mothers’ and their children’s health,” Messier added.

Malnutrition is not limited to the quantity and the quality of food consumed by the population. It is also related to access to potable water, sanitation and health services.

The study encourages governments and development institutions to maximize the efficient use of limited financial and management resources, by prioritizing integral initiatives that include health, nutrition, agriculture, water and sanitation, and social protection actions. 

The toolkit is the result of an assessment that compared international standards with initiatives adopted by 12 LAC countries (Bolivia, Colombia, Dominica, El Salvador, Grenada, Guatemala, Haiti, Honduras, Nicaragua, Panama, St. Lucia, and St. Vincent). Countries were selected for the study taking into account their poverty level, malnutrition rates, vulnerability to natural disasters and external economic shocks.

Click here for more information on the workshop and toolkit “How to Protect and Promote the Nutrition of Mothers and Children: A Toolkit for Stable, Crisis, and Emergency Situations”.


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