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Neglecting Micronutrients in Zaatari’s Food Policy

March 12, 2017

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. 

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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.

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