|Reaching Mothers and Children at Critical Times of their Lives (WFP)|
1. Individuals have special food needs at critical periods in their lives - most notably expectant mothers and their unborn babies, children under five, and nursing mothers. Inadequate nutrition in the first years of life and before is likely to damage health, mental development and future labour productivity. The high demands of reproduction deplete a womans nutrient stores, increasing her vulnerability to disease and reducing her capacity to work and care for her children. The consequences of "early malnutrition" reach beyond the individuals and families involved: society as a whole suffers losses when children cannot learn, when poor health restricts productivity, and when malnourished women give birth to the next generation that will also be malnourished.
2. Today, approximately 30 percent of children under five (i.e., over 200 million, according to a recent WHO estimate) are more vulnerable to sickness and more likely to die because they are undernourished. Most of them live in South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa. It is estimated that 50 percent of disease-related mortality among infants could be avoided if infant malnutrition were eradicated.
3. WFP can help end the inheritance of hunger through supplementary feeding programmes which provide the energy and nutrients missing from the basic diet of those who have special nutritional requirements. At present, WFP reaches over four million expectant and nursing mothers and children under five through primary health care centres. This assistance, which addresses early malnutrition, has important long-term pay-offs that cannot be achieved with later interventions. At the same time, there are challenges: past supplementary feeding programmes have not been without difficulties, particularly in the poorest countries where often food is needed most but sufficient complementary resources and capacities are lacking.
4. This paper examines the conditions under which WFP can better contribute to protecting poor women and children against lasting damage from early malnutrition. It will make recommendations on WFPs future policy and operational principles for supplementary feeding programmes, including measures required to increase these activities in the countries with the greatest needs. Recommendations will also be made for better meeting critical food needs during crisis and rehabilitation, bearing in mind the special circumstances involved.