Postscript to 'Outbreak of micronutrient deficiency disease'. By David Fletcher, WFP Kenya

by David Fletcher, Deputy Country Director, WFP/Kenya

WFP Kenya would like to address some of the points made in the article entitled, "Outbreak of micronutrient deficiency disease: Did we respond appropriately?" by Dianne Stevens et al. of Save the Children (UK). We do not dispute the fact that an outbreak of "micronutrient deficiency disease" did occur. However, we would like to challenge some of the information about chronology, decision-making and actions taken by WFP and our partners in responding to the emergency in Wajir.

Contrary to statements in the article, there were several food security field assessments covering Wajir District between the beginning of 2000 and January 2001. Food aid needs for the people of Wajir District have been based upon the results of these assessments and monthly monitoring information from the Kenya Food Security Coordination System (KFSCS)1, which included the extensive data collected monthly by the Arid Lands Natural Resource Management Programme (ALRMP) in Wajir. Also contrary to the information in the article, EMOP activities in Wajir began in June 2000 because it was only at that point, after the failure of the long rains, that the KFSCS and Oxfam (GB), the current lead agency for the EMOP in Wajir, agreed that the situation was severe enough to warrant general food aid distributions, not because of slow donor response.

It should also be noted that from June 2000, it was determined that vulnerable populations in Wajir needed a 100 percent food aid ration (2,100 Kcals/per day) composed of maize, pulses and oil. Unfortunately, due to late donations, our pipeline for all commodities and particularly pulses and oil was not adequate to ensure that planned rations could be delivered. Rations for different commodities therefore had to be reduced during some months to ensure that other needy populations as well as those in Wajir received adequate food. However, populations in Wajir District have been considered among the most vulnerable in Kenya and, therefore, have always received the largest possible rations of all commodities while under the EMOP. It should also be noted that as the food security situation in Wajir worsened, due to the deepening drought after the poor 2000 long rains season (April-June), the percentage of the population targeted for food aid was increased substantially from just over 47 percent in June 2000 to 80 percent in August to 93 percent in January 2001.

Regarding supplementary feeding distributions, it should be noted that according to UNICEF/Kenya, Wajir was one of the first districts to receive UNIMIX in August 2000. Vulnerable groups received subsequent distributions of a combination of UNIMIX and CSB in October and November/December and since November/December (when sufficient quantities of CSB under the EMOP arrived in country), CSB has been distributed as part of the general ration to households having under fives and/or pregnant and lactating women. As illustrated by numerous documents, Health and Nutrition Sector Group meeting minutes and discussions, there was and is a great deal of awareness regarding the need to address the risk of micronutrient deficiency.

While the possibility of WFP grinding food aid maize for beneficiaries was discussed, WFP never agreed to this proposition because of its logistical impracticalities. Studies in a number of districts including Wajir show that beneficiaries generally have their maize ground in exchange for a small portion of the resulting maize meal.

In conclusion, given the weakness of our food pipeline during the period, I would argue that the planning, decision making and actions taken by WFP and our partners have dealt as effectively as possible under the circumstances with the micronutrient problem. Indications at this point are that with more supplementary food having reached Wajir over the last few months, the micronutrient situation has significantly improved.

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1as highlighted in the article by Robin Wheeler "Development of Kenya Food Security Coordination System (KFSCS)"

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David Fletcher (2001). Postscript to 'Outbreak of micronutrient deficiency disease'. By David Fletcher, WFP Kenya. Field Exchange 12, April 2001. p17. www.ennonline.net/fex/12/wajir