The Plumpy’Nut is coming. But will it arrive in time to save 3.5 million people who the Somali foreign minister says may starve to death?
Today the UN World Food Programme has airlifted 14 tonnes of the highly enriched “therapeutic” peanut butter to Mogadishu, the Somali capital, for immediate distribution to the 40,000 refugees who have gathered there to escape the triple crisis of drought-aggravated famine, war and escalating food prices.
Since it was recommended by the World Health Organization in 2007 as the emergency food of choice for malnourished infants, Plumpy’Nut, manufactured by French company Nutriset, has become a staple of international famine relief. Children can eat it straight from the packet instead of having to be fed intravenously. Based on peanut butter, it contains sugar, vegetable fat, and skimmed milk powder enriched with vitamins and minerals.
Now it’s at the heart of a twin-track plan agreed in Rome, Italy, today by the UN to address the famine crisis affecting 12 million people in the Horn of Africa.
Stéphane Doyon, a nutrition expert for the charity Médecins Sans Frontières, says that sending ready-to-eat therapeutic foods like Plumpy’Nut is the best strategy to combat malnutrition in children rapidly. “It’s proven to work best against severe malnutrition, especially in situations where you don’t have the flexibility to individualise interventions,” he says. “Based on clinical science and evidence, they contain the right blend of macro and micronutrients needed to rehabilitate children from severe malnutrition.”
The crisis is particularly affecting Somalia itself and neighbouring Kenya and Ethiopia, where refugees from Somalia are arriving at a rate of 1500 to 2000 per day, according to the UNHCR refugee agency. The UN today agreed that the long-term solution is to invest in the future of farming in the region, but the other, much more urgent priority is to save those close to death through starvation.
“It’s vital we reach those at the epicentre of the famine with food assistance, especially the highly fortified nutritious products that are so important for vulnerable children,” WFP’s executive director Josette Sheeran said in a statement in Rome.