31 January 2017

Emergency nutrition service gives children a new lease of life in dzud affected Mongolia

Local health workers weighing Tsetsgee (January, 2016)
©UNICEF Mongolia/2016/Ganchimeg
“My daughter was underweight and kept getting sick during the winter” says Ms. Orlomsuren, a mother of three who lives in Zavkhan, one of the provinces affected worst by dzud—extreme, harsh winter. She added that she could still remember the long, cold winter nights when she was struggling to put nutritious food on the table for her children, especially her then 2-year-old daughter Tsetsgee. “We were very worried about our little girl and didn’t know what to do when the roads were blocked by snow,” added Ms. Orlomsuren.

Local health workers ©UNICEF Mongolia/2016/Uranchimeg Badambazar
In Mongolia, one in every 10 children is chronically malnourished. This number increases even higher during dzud. Lack of food supply and dietary diversity, coupled with road blockage due to heavy snowfall in rural area, exacerbate the already poor living conditions of herder households and their children alike.
Luckily, UNICEF’s package arrived in time for her family that winter. This initiative focused on nutrition services coordinated through primary health services reaching children under five years of age as well as pregnant and lactating women in targeted herder households like Ms. Orlomsuren’s family. Living in one of the coldest places on Earth barricaded in by heavy snowfall, “We never expected to receive the relief packages. There essential items like flour, rice, noodle, oil, sugar, tea and salt, along with vitamins for my Tsetsgee” said Ms. Orlomsuren.

Working with partners and local communities to curb malnutrition

“Access to basic food and maintenance of an adequate nutritional status are critical determinants of people’s survival, particularly for children under five during dzud emergency” explains Ms. Munkhjargal L., UNICEF Mongolia’s nutrition officer. That’s why, UNICEF spearheaded the humanitarian response efforts—comprehensive food, nutrition, protection, agriculture and early recovery programmes—complementing the broader response carried out by the United Nations (UN) and local non-governmental organizations.

UNICEF played a leading role in this humanitarian response, in charge of a comprehensive food and nutrition assistance programme that benefited 5,299 most vulnerable herder households (19,076 people) in 67 soums across six provinces such as Uvs, Zavkhan, Arkhangai, Bayankhongor, Dundgobi and Sukhbaatar. UNICEF worked with targeted soum health centres to provide quality nutrition services and counselling to the parents of children under five years of age as well as pregnant and lactating women, along with nutrition assessments and micronutrient supplementation. Health workers monitored every child in the target households during bi-weekly home visits to check on the use of multiple micronutrient supplements and their overall health and nutrition.

Sunbathing in the hands of her loving mother, it’s hard to believe that this is the same child that a few months ago was undernourished and in need of urgent treatment. Along with almost 20,000 individuals who received the dzud emergency package, the 3-year-old girl Tsetsgee is now well and healthy.

As the leading agency for the nutrition cluster, UNICEF Mongolia continues to work in building nutrition resilience in the country including nutrition emergency preparedness and disaster risk reduction.

In addition, nutrition is the backbone of child survival, health and development. Well-nourished children are better able to grow and learn, to participate in and contribute to their communities, and to be resilient in the face of disease, disasters, and other crises.

Each family reached and treated brings Mongolia one step closer to removing the harmful effects of malnutrition caused by dzud and creating a healthier future for every child.

Mungunkhishig Batbaatar
Digital Communication Consultant, UNICEF Mongolia