Malnutrition on the rise

Poverty and low agricultural productivity have increased malnutrition levels among Zambia's rural households, with
many forced to survive on less than three meals a day, humanitarian officials told IRIN on Tuesday.

An official of the UN's World Food Programme (WFP) told IRIN that the agency, in conjunction with the country's health ministry, is currently involved in supplementary feeding programmes for 100,000 people, most of whom are women and children as well as tuberculosis victims.

She said the agency supplies high protein foods, beans and maize through rural clinics. "Most of the beneficiaries cannot afford to have three meals in a day because of socio-economic conditions and their food security situation is desperate," the official said, adding that malnutrition levels in the country as a whole are particularly high.

According to government statistics, 70 percent of Zambian households are unable to meet their basic nutritional requirements. In the rural areas, "there is a serious lack of access to production assets such as micro-credit, farm implements, storage facilities and markets", that deepens
the impoverishment and marginalisation of the countryside, a 1999 government report said.

The WFP official said although food production has been "normal" this season, many families were forced to harvest their crops earlier than expected because of the recent floods. She said about 12,000 people in villages along the Zambezi basin lost their staple maize and beans when the floods hit the country in late February and March.

WFP, added the official, also plans to start a food-for-work programme for about 40,000 unemployed people. She said in the Western province, along the border with war-torn Angola, there are pockets of villagers who have been displaced because of the deteriorating security situation, worsening their nutrition status.

According to media reports, marauding bands of armed gangs have been terrorising villagers in the border areas since December following the renewed fighting in Angola between government forces and rebels of the UNITA movement.