CIVIL Society Scaling-Up Nutrition Zambia Alliance (CSO-SUN) has called for the review of the relief food distribution policy to ensure all necessary nutrition elements are included in the food packs rather than maintaining the mealie meal and maize only packages.

Speaking when he featured on ZNBC TV2 Morning Live show, CSO-SUN country director Mathews Mhuru observed that the current food packs being distributed to hunger-stricken areas were making them more vulnerable as they did not meet their dietary needs.

“The first step is just reviewing the policy that has to do with relief food distribution at DMMU-level because the number of times we have had interactions with DMMU, they would tell us that maize and mealie meal is what is in the policy. So, we really have to review that and start having a response that will respond to the dietary needs of the people. What we don’t really see is the fact that most of the time, when we are taking just one type of food to people who are really vulnerable, you are actually making them more vulnerable,” Mhuru said.

“Just the case of Gwembe [District] when we had some serious food insecurity last year, we found people actually getting ash, mixing with mealie meal and giving to their children and you know those would have very devastating health effects. So, coping measures will just compromise the health of the people that would consume these foods if they are just given one type of food, especially mealie meal and some of it is even sold because people would need some bit of income just to find other foods. So, we really need to look at having a package that meets the dietary needs of the people if we can add. Yes, the carbohydrates are needed; we need something that would complement like the protein needs and the micro nutrients that the populations affected by food insecurity would actually benefit from.”

He further called on well-wishers to complement the government’s efforts in areas such as Lunga District where there was a surge of malnutrition cases despite relief food being distributed in the area.

“This is the area that concerns us the most as CSO-SUN. Our visit to Lunga has revealed a threat of continued rise in malnutrition cases in the area due to lack of diversity in food consumption. The people of Lunga are currently consuming two major foods, which are rice and fish. Rice is a carbohydrate, which does not offer much and while fish is high in protein, mono-diet is not good for nutrition, hence there is already a surge in malnutrition cases. Our engagement with the health authorities revealed that the number of people suffering from severe acute malnutrition has risen tremendously with many people yet to be visited by the health authorities,” Mhuru said. “This number is expected to rise significantly as health authorities continue to interact with people in the District. CSO-SUN, therefore, calls on government, through the Disaster Management and Mitigation Unit (DMMU), to increase the allocation of food given to the people of Lunga and diversify the food pack in order to meet the nutritional needs of the affected families. We also call on well-wishers to compliment government efforts and take the little they have to Lunga to enable the people to survive.”

He said Lunga had been affected by the floods in the 2018/2019 farming season, hence the food insecurity.

“In the 2018/2019 season, Lunga had floods again so there was relief that was being taken there. So, we were expecting that in the 2019/2020 farming season, this will not be the case, but it has continued. So, it becomes a very difficult situation for the people living in the area. We were very happy that the President (Edgar Lungu) and the Vice-President (Inonge Wina) took interest in Lunga and…gave instructions to DMMU to start taking relief food to this area. What we found on the ground is that yes, relief has been taken to the DMMU twice; in February as well as end of May. So, this relief food was maize and mealie meal and that has been our challenge,” said Mhuru. “We’ve always advised government, you know, in times of severe hunger, when you take maize and you give people mealie meal, it becomes very difficult for them to have meals that would meet their dietary needs because you realize that is just one food that would actually cause the micro-nutrient deficiencies to the people there, hence we are not even surprised that the cases of malnutrition are increasing in the area.”