Humanitarian aid vs. long-term and sustained development: Finding a gendered solution to malnourishment in Nepal after the 2015 earthquake
By: Alitzel Valadez
It is evident that the urgency of providing aid can sometimes conflict with the long-term necessities of locals. In Nepal’s case, the provision of canned food by international agencies after its 2015 earthquake diminished the consequences of disrupted food supply chains, especially in remote areas. However, the packaged food provided was entirely different to what locals were used to eating. This lack of foresight was detrimental to national eating habits. So … to what extent should short-term humanitarian aid be provided, especially when it directly opposes a country’s customs?
However, as the packaged food provided was entirely different to what locals were used to eating.
Even though the provision of canned food and resources by international organisations, and other donors was crucial for the wellbeing of the Nepalese population and its recovery; long-term over-reliance on packaged foods has made it difficult for communities to attain both sustainable self-growth and development.
In Nepal, the most vulnerable populations are children and women. 36 percent of children under five years of age are stunted and 10 percent suffer grave consequences from wasting (World Food Programme n.d.). About 60 percent of Nepalese child deaths are caused by malnutrition (The New Humanitarian 2012). Additionally, about 1.4 million pregnant and lactating women are malnourished and 48 percent suffer from anaemia as a result of micronutrient deficiencies (ReliefWeb 2019). These numbers demonstrate that even if the population was rapidly alleviated from the emergency caused by the earthquake, the help provided was insufficient to tackle the root causes of malnutrition.
It is also important to remember that health issues such as this one have several causes and that these must be dealt collectively. This is particularly important in countries like Nepal, where malnourishment issues cannot be pinpointed to a single factor. One of the main causes is that women are more likely than men to be malnourished because of traditional gender roles that prioritise food distribution for men and that also favour frequent births in a short span of time (Welsh 2019). Thus, another key question to ask when conducting development programs, especially after conflicts or natural disasters that require immediate aid is: what is a way of conducting ethical development practices that align with a country’s principles and needs, but at the same time vouch for human rights and equality?
In order to attain the Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) of zero hunger, it is essential to include gender equality into development programs.
In order to attain the Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) of zero hunger, it is essential to include gender equality into development programs. In Nepal’s case, there is a glimmer of hope that this is possible. The USAID, an international organisation currently supports local NGOs and other national partners to tackle malnourishment and gender discrimination problems through the Suaahara Program. It works with the National Planning Commission of Nepal, with Nepalese government’s female community health workers, with female volunteers and other locals to “improve the nutritional status of women and children in forty underserved rural districts of Nepal.” (USAID 2017). Amongst other things, it has helped spread information regarding health and nutrition to remote locations; enhanced clean water, sanitation and hygiene conditions in households; increased the use of quality health services for women and children; and improved the food security of households. Through the program, women are capable of being more in control of nutritional decisions in their households (Welsh 2019). This is particularly relevant as men have had the need to leave their homes and migrate in search of employment
Even though it has its limitations, and we should always be cautious of international programs and donors’ agendas, the Suaahara Program has been significant in tackling nutrition and health issues, while at the same time promoting gender equality and women’s empowerment in Nepal. Inclusive and gendered practices like this one are essential if development organisations and donors want to move beyond short-term emergency-alleviating responses into sustained development.
ReliefWeb (2019). Nepal: Food Assistance Fact Sheet. Retrieved 27 November 2019.
The New Humanitarian (2012). Five reasons malnutrition still kills in Nepal. Food. The New Humanitarian. Retrieved 27 November 2019.
USAID (2017). Nepal Fact Sheet: Suaahara II “Good Nutrition” Program. The United States Agency for International Development. Retrieved 27 November 2019.
Welsh, T (2019). Women at center of post-earthquake nutrition efforts in Nepal. Devex News. Retrieved 27 November 2019.