BANGKOK (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – An increasing number of children are suffering from malnutrition in evacuation centres in the southern Philippines, the United Nations has said, underlying aid workers’ concerns about the impact of prolonged displacement on those driven from their homes by conflict.
Nutritional experts screened 2,554 children under five in three of the largest evacuation centres in Zamboanga City, where 65,000 people remain displaced following fighting in September between government troops and a breakaway faction of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF). Many are living in overcrowded centres.
The experts, working under the U.N.’s cluster system that coordinates humanitarian organisations, recorded an increase both in severe acute malnutrition (SAM or severe wasting) and moderate acute malnutrition (MAM or wasting) in the two weeks from 16 to 30 November, said the latest U.N. report.
SAM was detected in 9.36 percent of children, an increase of one percentage point from two weeks ago, while cases of MAM had risen to 11.5 percent from 11.1 percent amongst under fives at the Joaquin Enriquez Memorial Sports Complex, Cawa-Cawa Shoreline, and Zamboanga City National High School West displacement camps.
SAM can be a direct cause of child death as well as the underlying cause for many preventable diseases that can lead to death.
The SAM rate in Zamboanga is below the threshold of 10 percent that is considered a nutritional emergency. But aid workers say it is still a major concern.
“It is already a cause for worry considering the environment (poor hygiene practices, sanitation), the feeding and health care practices, population density,” Amina Lim, regional programme coordinator for UNICEF, the U.N. children’s agency, told Thomson Reuters Foundation via e-mail.
Some of the displaced also lack knowledge on the importance of nutrition and are unaware of the issues surrounding malnutrition, she added.
The relocation of displaced people from congested evacuation centres is being hampered by a lack of sites, the U.N. said. They are expected to remain in camps for the next six months and “humanitarian assistance will need to be sustained”, it added.
Yet as of Dec 9, a U.N. appeal for $24.5 million to respond to the crisis in Zamboanga has received only 15 percent funding.