• Human Development

Rwanda: Malnutrition Rates Improve Among Refugee Children

MAHAMA REFUGEE CAMP, Rwanda – Emeline Bukera was four months pregnant when she fled her home in northern Burundi in mid-2015 to escape violence as the Burundian socio-political crisis intensified.

She left her village in the Cibitoke province and headed for the Rwandan border on foot, but had no food for the long and difficult journey.  By the time the 26-year-old pregnant mother reached the Nyanza refugee transit centre in Rwanda, she was dehydrated and had drastically lost weight, putting her at risk of pregnancy complications that could threaten both her life as well as her unborn child's.

“I was much troubled thinking about my expected baby’s nutrition status,” said Emeline.

From Nyanza, she was transferred to the Mahama refugee camp, where she learned that the World Food Programme (WFP) provides special nutrition support for pregnant women to help combat undernutrition. She registered for the programme, which is known as supplementary feeding, and began receiving specially formulated, highly nutritious porridge in addition to her regular food rations

In November 2015, Emeline delivered a healthy baby girl, Akimana Happy Claire Happuouk.

“I’m happy with my baby girl, and so grateful for WFP support to prevent and treat me and my baby from malnutrition because of the fortified porridge that we receive,” said Emeline.

Good news on nutrition

A new nutrition survey has found that rates of chronic malnutrition in all of Rwanda’s refugee camps have dropped significantly, in part due to food assistance and nutrition interventions provided by WFP and other partners.

The standardised expanded nutrition survey (SENS), which was carried out jointly by UNHCR and WFP in May 2016 in all six refugee camps in Rwanda, found a significant reduction in rates of chronic malnutrition among children under the age of 5. The acute malnutrition rate has significantly dropped in Mahama camp – home to Emiline and other Burundian refugees – where it reduced by 10 percent compared to last year, and there has also been major reductions in the other camps, which mainly host Congolese refugees.

The improvement in malnutrition rates in Mahama camp is critically important, since the global acute malnutrition (GAM) among the newly arriving refugees were troublingly high when the Burundian crisis unfolded in early 2015.

WFP’s nutrition support for refugees was possible due to the generous contributions received from the United States, United Kingdom, the European Commission, UN Central Emergency Response Fund (UNCERF), Belgium and Canada.


Prevention and treatment of malnutrition

Because undernutrition rates have been high among Burundian refugees, WFP adopted an approach called “blanket supplementary feeding” to ensure adequate nutrition support in Mahama camp, where Emeline and her daughter are now living.  Under this approach, WFP provides fortified supplementary foods to the most vulnerable of the refugees, notably to all children under 2, pregnant women and breastfeeding mothers, as well as to HIV and TB patients. In addition to that, WFP provides micronutrient-fortified food as part of the general food distribution to ensure that refugee households in Mahama have access to adequate nutrients.  If children are identified to be malnourished, they are enrolled in a separate treatment program for moderate acute malnutrition.

In the five camps for refugees from the Democratic Republic of Congo, where the rates of acute malnutrition have been low, WFP provides targeted support for children who are diagnosed with moderate acute malnutrition and require treatment. To help them recover, these children receive a highly nutritious fortified food rich in micronutrients and proteins.

Finding safety and support

Rwanda is home to more than 150,000 refugees from Burundi and Democratic Republic of Congo. More than 54 percent of the refugees living in Rwanda are women. Refugees are hosted in six camps, and they depend entirely on WFP food assistance

WFP’s assistance is provided through general food distributions, cash-based transfers and safety net interventions such as nutrition support and school meals. Cash-based transfers are implemented in three camps out of six camps to enable refugees to buy food of their choice at the local markets. Subject to assessment findings, WFP plans to scale up cash based-transfers where markets are functional to allow refugees to have more control over their diets, diversify their food choices and increase their self-reliance. Recent research in Rwanda has found that cash-based assistance also supports the local economies around refugee camps.