Photo: UN Bhutan

Staff Reporter

To ensure children do not miss out on the nutritional requirements required for their growth and development while not in school, the UN family is scaling up efforts to secure nutrition in the country and is working on an integrated approach for nutrition and Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH).

A joint press release from the UN states that the nutrition and WASH package includes a take-home school feeding ration, soaps and nutrition and hygiene messages.

“The impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on children’s nutrition security could be devastating as children’s food choices become increasingly limited,” UNICEF Bhutan Representative Dr Will Parks said. “To prevent a major crisis, and to protect children from the worst impacts of Covid-19, we must act now to continue essential nutrition services.”

Although 98 percent of households in Bhutan are food secure, 88 percent of children aged between 6 to 23 months do not have a minimum acceptable diet, which indicates that food security is not enough to achieve nutritional status.

While the Covid-19 pandemic has delayed the nationwide scaling up of micronutrient supplementation for children, the UN is supporting the government in preparing for an accelerated scale-up of micronutrient supplementation once the mass training of health workers resumes.

During any period when schools need to remain closed, the press release states that the UN supports the government in establishing a system to provide nutritious food to students identified by the government as the most vulnerable children. The proposed food basket will consist of rice and oil fortified with essential vitamins and minerals, chickpeas, and pulses, that will be distributed while implementing appropriate infection prevention control measures.

Good nutrition is crucial for health, particularly in times like these, when the immune system might need to fight back, the Resident Coordinator of UN Bhutan, Gerald Daly said.

“The most impacted would be the poorest and the most vulnerable segments of the society. It is critical that people have access to enough food and nutrition,” the resident coordinator said. “All of us must act. That is why the UN is working together to meet the immediate needs through emergency responses, and plan for longer-term solutions to support recovery and build resilience.”

According to the press release, the UN has supported the government’s efforts towards prepositioning of food under the National Food Security Reserve. Two portable storage facilities have been donated to augment the current storage capacity by additional 1,000MT and funds disbursed to procure storage equipment.

The UN is also providing technical assistance on food safety and quality matters to minimize food losses and preserve inherent nutritional quality of the 20,000MT food, which should suffice to meet the requirements of 50 percent of the population for about six months.

The head of World Food Programme office in Bhutan, Svante Helms said, the government has taken a proactive approach to address the emergency, which is putting increased pressure on the country’s health system as well as food and nutrition security. “We are pleased to extend our support at this critical time to protect the people, especially the most vulnerable, against potential shocks such as decreased access to affordable and nutritious food amidst the growing unemployment rate and lost or reduced wages.”

The UNDP, FAO, WHO and the UNFPA are also supporting the government’s response to secure food and nutrition in the country.