Neglecting Micronutrients in Zaatari’s Food Policy


Civil war in Syria has driven an estimated 2.8 million refugees from the country in search of sanctuary, primarily among neighboring countries. Zaatari camp in Jordan, currently the largest Syrian refugee camp, is home to over 79,000 Syrians. 


While all registered camp residents receive World Food Program food vouchers for the purchase of food items within the camp markets, studies conducted in the Zaatari camp have indicated a high prevalence of anemia in children and women (48.8% and 44.8%respectively). Displacement, lack of income, and poor access to nutrient rich foods are contributing factors to the poor nutritional status of some of the refugees in the camp.

According to WHO classification and in conformity of UNHCR operational guidance, anemia prevalence over 40% is classified as a HIGH public health significance and is an indication of need for preventive interventions with micronutrient supplementation, including iron, zinc, and vitamin A. 

UNHCR’s nutrition response intervention report of 2015 laid out a system for diagnosing and delivering targeted therapy for severe micronutrient deficiencies in both women and children within the Syrian refugee camps. Although medical personnel are trained to detect and manage severe micronutrient deficiencies, they still persist because there is no policy on universal supplementation or prevention.  

The current policy of securing food among refugees in Zaatari neglects important micronutrient deficiencies. While malnutrition is low overall (and thus a success of multiple aid agencies), micronutrient deficiencies are unacceptably high. We therefore propose inclusion of micronutrient packets and fortified flour to all families, and for this to be implemented as the standard in refugee camps. Jordan already has a national mandatory flour fortification program in place. We urge the World Food Program and the United Nations partners  who are heavily-invested stakeholders (UNHCR and UNICEF), to take a more sustainable approach, and focus on supporting the national fortification program to ensure that refugees have full access to fortified flour products.




3 Responses to “Neglecting Micronutrients in Zaatari’s Food Policy”

  1. samodennis Says:

    Very interesting blog post. I would imagine that support for any programs that target micro nutrient deficiencies do not garner the same attention as malnutrition. Is this correct?

    Also I was wondering what are the barriers that UNHCR and UNICEF face in supporting Jordan’s pre-existing program. Also is there are an attempt at all to strengthen the 2015 policy by adding in how to delivery universal supplements?

    In addition I would be interested to know the success of JOrdan’s flower program and if there are studies on its efficiency and efficacy.

    I agree with the overall goal of supporting food distribution that targets micro-nutrient deficiencies but there is alot the aid organizations must understand before an effective program can be implicated.

  2. asraparekh Says:

    Interesting blog!

    Agreed there should be flour fortification programs after examining the feasibility and cost effectiveness analysis.

    In Costa Rica, anemia declined in women and children, and iron status in children improved after fortification. Also, each year of flour fortification is associated with a 2.4% decrease in anemia prevalence among non-pregnant women. While in the United States, fortifying with folic acid has nearly eliminated folic acid deficiency anemia. ( Research shows fortification has been effective.

  3. reddaysblog Says:

    This is a very interesting blog on the unintended consequences of food aid that is not well regulated. I have visions of saviors that drop White rice on poor countries in fly-overs, never to return again, or only to return as heros. You make me think differently, as if those “heros” actually owe it to those who are less fortunate to do their homework and provide services, whether food aid or human aid, that will be sustainable, and not just a fly-over, in the sky or in the GI tract. I really enjoyed reading this blog post.

    Thank you.


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