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Quarter of refugee children in West Timor malnourished

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Tuesday, 18 January 2000: A survey by UNICEF in the Belu District of West Timor has found that an estimated 25 per cent of refugee children under the age of five are suffering from moderate to severe malnutrition.
The results of the survey, conducted in late December 1999 in collaboration with the Indonesian Ministry of Health, indicate that 4 per cent of refugee children under five are severely malnourished, with another 20 per cent suffering from moderate malnutrition. The survey also observed a prevalence of diarrhoea and respiratory infection among young children, which negatively affects nutrition.

A malnutrition rate at or above 15 per cent is considered by the United Nations to be a serious nutritional emergency.

"We are quite concerned about the situation revealed in the survey," said Stephen Woodhouse, UNICEF Representative in Indonesia. "A 25 per cent rate of wasting -- which we consider very high -- underscores the real urgency of swift new interventions. These children and their families have had it tough for four solid months now. They need our help quickly."

In response to its findings, UNICEF plans to expand the distribution of Vitadele, a micronutrient-fortified complementary food introduced in Indonesia by UNICEF. Operating from a headquarters in Jakarta and two field offices in West Timor, the UNICEF country team currently supports a supplementary feeding programme that reaches some 7,000 at-risk children from among the refugee population. That programme will be expanded, with special emphasis on the needs of children aged 6 to 24 months.

UNICEF is working with Indonesian Government ministries to take immediate action to implement the survey team's other recommendations, which are:

Improvement in the distribution of the basic rice ration to ensure that it reaches all refugees equally. An adequate monitoring system should be put in place that keeps track of the frequency of distribution in each camp and the amount received per family.

An increase in the general food ration from the current 1440 kcal per day to a minimum 2100 kcal per day, comprised of a proper mix of carbohydrates, fat and protein. In the Indonesian setting, this improvement could be achieved by adding beans, dried salted fish and oil.

The nutrition survey was conducted 19-23 December 1999 using a cluster sampling method. The analysis relied on a Weight-for-Height assessment. Weight-for-Height is the most sensitive indicator of acute malnutrition and is preferred for nutrition surveys and for measuring individual progress in feeding programmes (as opposed to Weight-for-Age).

The Belu District of West Timor lies along the border with East Timor and has hosted a majority of the refugees from East Timor since the crisis began there in August 1999. The total refugee population in Belu is currently estimated at 100,000, of which approximately 15 per cent are children under five.

Please email media@unicef.org with comments or requests for more information, quoting CF/DOC/PR/2000/03