by Marion Nestle
Sep 1 2010

International food politics: Pakistan

If the most important risk factor for chronic malnutrition is poverty, natural disaster is surely the most important for acute malnutrition.   Nutrition problems created by natural disasters usually can be alleviated by effective government action and, when necessary, international aid.

But the flood disaster in Pakistan is so huge, and affects so many people over such a large area, that it has become an object lesson in the consequences of international disinterest.  What aid has been forthcoming has been slow to arrive and not much of it comes from the United States.

One result is illustrated in today’s Guardian (UK):

Children at roadside shelter, Northwest Pakistan. Photo: Mohammad Sajjad/AP

The photo was forwarded to me by Patty Rundall, policy coordinator of Baby Milk Action.

It was sent to her by UNICEF, which has produced guidelines on infant feeding and a call for appropriate support for feeding young children in Pakistan.  Bottle feeding in unsterile environments is not healthy for infants.

The Washington Post points out that helping to alleviate this disaster is the right thing to do.  But it is also very much in America’s strategic interest.

If strategic interest is what it takes to get our government and others to move on this, let’s use it.

  • JMT

    A few links aren’t working in this post-

  • Marion

    @JMT: Thanks for pointing out the missing links. They are now fixed, I hope. I really appreciate knowing about such things.

  • Dragan

    What are healthier alternatives than bottles in these environments?

  • Dragon,

    If these mothers were still breastfeeding these babies and toddlers they would not need these bottles and that would be by far the safest option at this point. Unfortunately they have been influenced by the formula companies and their policies as opposed to the WHO’s policy that children should be breastfed for at least 2 years. I’m not sure what turns my stomach more the flies or the bottles with unsterilized water in them.

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  • Anthro

    I think the other alternative now that the bottles are being used is to get the water issues addressed and provide safe drinking water in the meantime for use in the bottles.

    Better yet, in the long term, support Greg Mortenson and the Central Asia Institute (“Three Cups of Tea”) in their efforts to educate girls (and boys) so they will understand the underlying issues involved and be able to help themselves. Huge percentages of women in Pakistan (and Afghanistan) are illiterate, as high as 9 in 10 in remote areas.

  • Cathy Richards

    Anthro – great idea. However, if these toddlers were still breastfed (average age of weaning in non-‘civilized’ societies has been shown to be something like 4.7 years of age) their need for water would be lower, their need for aid would be lower thus benefiting everyone, and their exposure to unsafe water would be lowered.

    Safe water in a baby bottle — no problem. Safe water in a baby bottle that can’t be cleaned properly — some problem. Unsafe water in an unclean bottle — big problem. Formula made with unsafe water and served in an unclean bottle — those typhoid/cholera bugs are going to thrive.

  • Bronwen

    I live in a small-ish town in South Africa. Our local hero is a doctor called Dr Imtiaz Sooliman, who started something called the Gift of the Givers Foundation several years ago. It provides relief in the form of medical help, food and other gifts in kind wherever natural and man-made disasters occur. They move very fast indeed, and are often landed and working before the bigger aid organisations arrive. They are unafraid, and often go to the difficult areas where others are leery of going. If you wish to give money, you can be sure it will be well-spent by this utterly ethical concern. Go to to help, and know that your money is not going to the fatcats. I have not had the pleasure of meeting Dr Sooliman, but I know people who have – he is beloved for his humility and honesty.