COPING WITH NATURAL DISASTERS: THE ROLE OF LOCAL HEALTH PERSONNEL AND THE COMMUNITY
( By A Working Guide (WHO - OMS, 1989) )

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Chapter 3.Food distribution

When there is a risk of malnutrition because of food shortage, it may be necessary to distribute foodstuffs to the population. This happens particularly in the case of displaced persons. In most cases food aid comes from outside. It is, however, important that the community play an active part in organizing its distribution. A local committee can be set up with representatives of the community, the displaced persons and the donors. Establishing a committee to coordinate food distribution should reduce shortcomings and prevent favouritism and abuses.

It is important that the foods distributed should be culturally acceptable, of a kind known and used by the population. If it is necessary to hand out foodstuffs donated from outside, with which the local population is not familiar, demonstrations must be given of how they should be prepared. In very poor communities the distribution of manufactured foodstuffs should be avoided so as not to interfere with eating habits and the capacity to make use of local produce. Jars of baby food should be forbidden since they may give rise to the idea that only imported foodstuffs ensure that children are well fed. Feeding bottles should not be given.

As far as possible the distribution of ready-prepared meals should be avoided, since it may suggest that the disaster-stricken population is to be assisted en masse. In the field of nutrition also it is important to affirm the principle that the community should be helped to resume its activities, its autonomy and its initiative.

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