Severe Increase in Malnutrition in Mazlakh Camp, Afghanistan

MSF Analysis Finds Insecurity and Unequal Access to Food at Afghanistan's Largest Camp for Displaced Peoples

Herat/New York, February 6, 2002 — A nutritional survey conducted by the international medical aid organization Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) in Mazlakh camp, near the Western Afghan city of Herat, shows a severe increase in malnutrition among thousands of internally displaced Afghans living in the camp.

The survey, conducted with a representative sample of 1,869 children throughout the camp, shows a global malnutrition rate of 26.4 percent and a severe acute malnutrition of 6.6 percent. These findings show an unacceptable rise compared to the global malnutrition of less than 10 percent among new arrivals looking for humanitarian assistance in Mazlakh. "Here you have the absurd situation that the longer people stay in the camp, the more malnourished they get," says Stefano Savi, head of the MSF project in Herat. "It is very clear that being in Mazlakh presents a serious risk of malnutrition and hence of disease and death."

The camp hosts an estimated 160,000 people fleeing drought and insecurity. Since food for up to 300,000 people is being distributed to the camp, the findings of the survey demonstrate that unequal access to food is the underlying cause of the increasing malnutrition. Crime, corruption and ethnic tensions inside the camp result in an ineffective food distribution as well as fear among big parts of the population to seek any kind of assistance. This is the main reason only 80 children attend the special feeding centers of MSF, which have a capacity to treat up to 200 children. Based upon this latest survey out of 1,869 children, hundreds would meet the criteria for admission to these centers. Current efforts by the involved parties to reorganize the camp in order to get the situation under control need to be further improved. "All these factors still make it really difficult for us to reach the vast majority of the malnourished population, who are in desperate need of assistance," concludes Savi.

The displaced have fled their homes seeking protection and assistance. The international community is struggling to assist the most needy. MSF demands that the International Organization of Migration (IOM), UN agencies, and local authorities redouble their efforts to install effective systems to help the population of Mazlakh. With the alarming growing numbers of malnourished people, the focus should first and foremost be on solving the protection problems inside the camp to enable the set up of the planned equitable food distribution system which will reach the whole population.

The example of Mazlakh clearly shows that despite international optimism and the millions of US dollars of aid being promised for reconstruction of Afghanistan, the people are still facing huge problems in terms of immediate humanitarian needs. The international aid response must focus on meeting these immediate needs next to the attention for state building and reconstruction.