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Cuts to funding in Guinea-Bissau threaten children’s health

With its reliance on international aid, a lack of funding for projects in Guinea-Bissau threatens to leave children without nutritional support.

Once lauded as a model for African development, Guinea-Bissau is now one of the poorest countries in the world. Political instability and successive coups have taken a heavy toll on the country, which is weighed down by huge debts. This means that many people in Guinea-Bissau are reliant on foreign aid.

However, following the latest coup in April 2012, many foreign-backed projects are lacking in funding, as international governments withdraw development cooperation. In theory, aid should still be made available for humanitarian work, but in practice, many organisations run humanitarian programmes which involve elements of ‘development’ and therefore funding has been withdrawn.

The UN’s World Food Programme (WFP) is one such programme. It needs 7 million dollars as a matter of urgency to meet the food and nutrition needs of nearly 300,000 people this year. This includes projects such as school-feeding programmes and support services for children who are malnourished. But speaking to the news agency IRIN, a WFP spokesperson admitted that the WFP does not currently have the resources “to buy the food we need”.

Though a few promises for some funding have been received, many of the WFP’s traditional donors have suspended their giving to Guinea Bissau. This is also affecting agricultural development projects at a time when locals are facing increasing food insecurity due to inadequate local production and high food prices. In an assessment carried out in three regions of the country last year, one in five people were found to be food insecure. A poor cashew crop in 2012 – on which many farmers depend – has compounded the problem.

According to a report published in December by the UN’s child agency, UNICEF, and the Ministry of Health, 17% of under-fives in Guinea Bissau are underweight and 27% are stunted due to inadequate nutrition. Health experts therefore fear that if local support programmes are forced to close, this will cause malnutrition rates to rise even further.

UNICEF supports the Ministry of Health in a range of activities, such as the provision of food supplements for severely malnourished children and the setting up of nutrition treatment centres. But the organisation admits that it faces “major challenges” in the year ahead due to a “lack of funding, very few partners in nutrition and limited human resources trained in nutrition”.

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