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Travelling for days over mountains and rivers was all in a day's work for these researchers, one of 15 teams who conducted a nutritional assessment across flood and typhoon affected areas of rural Laos.
Saravane was one of 9 affected provinces covered by the survey. The team recorded the height and weight of women and children in order to assess the severity of malnutrition. These measurements -- along with blood tests – produced some worrying results.
Dr Dalaphone Sithideth, a member of Nutritional Assesment Team, said: “We have found some extremely high levels of malnutrition among children. Their haemoglobin levels are also significantly below average. The 3 southern provinces of Attapeu, Savannakhet and Sekong produced some of the most critical results.”
Poverty and underdevelopment made the south particularly vulnerable to the effects of the natural disasters that struck in 2008 and 2009, as villagers like Ms Phom discovered to their cost.
Villager Phom Saravane said: “My rice field was flooded and my crops died. The floods lasted for a long time and I am too poor to buy food.”
The assessment showed that children's health was particularly badly affected by the loss of farmland. The limited availability of health services made the situation even worse.
Dr Kinnalone Chandavang, a member of Nutritional Assesment Team, said: “We need to respond to these issues from both the health and agricultural side. We need to develop ways of improving the skills and livelihoods of the villagers, so they will be equipped for future eventualities.”
In response to the situation, the government, UNICEF and other partners have devised a 12 month strategy of urgent interventions. These include the despatch of therapeutic feeding kits along with training for health staff that will carry out a screening of the most severely malnourished children.
For its part, UNICEF will accelerate the distribution of micro-nutrient powder and zinc supplements for young children. An ongoing campaign to encourage Exclusive Breast- Feeding and to tackle some of the inappropriate feeding practices found in these areas will also be stepped up.
Through joining forces with government and other organizations UNICEF aims to bring about a rapid improvement to the critical nutritional problems facing the children of rural Laos.