Afghanistan: Taking nutrition to new heights in Jawand District

Officially, Afghanistan is at peace. But Afghan families are still fighting a heartbreaking, seemingly endless battle: to keep their young children alive.
According to a September 2001 survey conducted by UNICEF and a German humanitarian organisation, 165 of every 1,000 Afghan children die before reaching age 5, giving Afghanistan one of the world's highest child mortality rates. Malnourishment's devastating effects on child development and immune response is a major reason for this startling rate. Women are often malnourished as well, making it difficult or impossible for them to deliver normal weight babies or breastfeed them adequately.

In Jawand District, Badghis Province, World Vision Afghanistan has begun a nutrition program for children under 5 and pregnant and nursing mothers. The program is funded by the government of South Korea, with support from World Vision South Korea. From a recent nutrition screening, 2,781 beneficiaries have been chosen for the four-month project. All will receive oil, sugar and Unimix, a nutritious and calorie-rich mix of cereal grains.

World Vision Afghanistan has conducted similar programs before, but Jawand's remoteness and near-inaccessibility has made planning this intervention more complicated than usual.

"To say that reaching the people will be a challenge is an incredible understatement," declares Eleanor Cupit, World Vision Afghanistan Health Program Manager. To reach World Vision's Jawand base from headquarters in Herat, normally a 13-hour drive, can take several days now that winter's ice and snow have set in. It is not unusual for World Vision teams in 4WD vehicles to become stranded en route for hours or even days. One team recently radioed in to say that weather and roads were so bad, it had taken them five hours to drive 3 kilometers.

From base, donkeys become as important as nutrition workers and supplies: The animals are the only way for World Vision to reach beneficiaries, who live on a mountain plateau up to 2,000 meters above base. Some beneficiary villages are located up to five days away by foot or hoof over forbidding, rocky terrain.

In addition to food and staff, World Vision Afghanistan must deliver to the plateau, medical kits with free emergency medicines to treat common winter diseases like pneumonia and tuberculosis. Villagers, who have formed village organisations, will help World Vision distribute food and medicine once it reaches the plateau.

Jawand District is home to about 80,000 people. Children under age 5 make up about 20 percent of the population. Pregnant or nursing mothers account for another 5 percent.