Ryan Dagur – The United Nations World Food Program (WFP) in collaboration with Timor-Leste's Ministry of Health is providing nutritional assistance for hundreds of thousands of malnourished pregnant and lactating women in the Catholic-majority country.
The aid, with support from the Chinese government, comes in the form of Super Cereal, a fortified blend rich in vitamins and minerals. The aim is to help more than 144,000 women in 13 cities over the next four months.
Josefina Pereira, WFP Timor-Leste's social behaviour change communications officer, told UCA News on May 12 that WFP had received about US$1 million from China to procure Super Cereal for the women.
"We are working closely with the Ministry of Health in Timor-Leste to distribute the food items through community health centers across the country," she said.
She said the Catholic Church was not directly involved in helping the aid effort. "In this program, we don't directly work with church people whether in parishes, dioceses or Catholic schools," she added.
The aid for mothers also helps supplement another WFP food program targeting malnourished schoolchildren through a feeding program, including in Catholic schools, with funding from the Korea International Cooperation Agency.
At the launch on May 11 at the Metinaro Health Center in Dili, Health Minister Odete Maria Freitas Belo said the food aid for mothers comes at the right time amid a crisis in the country.
"Many communities are struggling to meet their food needs due to the pandemic and natural disasters like last year's cyclone," she said, referring to Typhoon Seroja, which killed 41 people and damaged 2,163 hectares of agricultural land in April 2021.
In Timor-Leste, food security and malnutrition remain persistent challenges, according to WFP.
The recently published results of a UNICEF survey on the nutritional status and risk factors for malnutrition in children and women, including those affecting infant and young child-feeding practices, found that among children under 5, some 47 percent were suffering from stunted growth and 32 percent were underweight.
It also found that 30 percent of women of reproductive age were anemic.
Meanwhile, in a recent socioeconomic impact assessment conducted by the government, 38 percent of households had to reduce the quality of their diet, while 21 percent of those in the lowest wealth bracket had to skip a meal to cope with dwindling income or resources.
Dageng Liu, WFP country director in Timor-Leste, said the conflict in Ukraine was adding more pressure to already high food prices around the world, stretching people's ability to sustain an adequate diet.
"We are honored to be working alongside the Ministry of Health to assist the most vulnerable people with life-saving food and nutrition support when they need us the most," he said.
"We thank China for its timely funding, which is absolutely critical in sustaining our life-saving response in the country."
Xiao Jianguo, China's ambassador to Timor-Leste, said that "providing humanitarian assistance is one of our priority areas."
"With this contribution, we will be able to improve the standard of living of women and their families," he added.