In Cambodia, inflation revives the threat of child malnutrition

On the markets of a thousand flavors of the kingdom, both customers and sellers speak only of inflation. With the removal of the Covid-19, the animation returns timidly, but international tensions, in particular the war in Ukraine, are felt.

In this gloomy context, some small traders say they have lost half of their income, such as Chhon Puthy, a noodle seller in Chroy Neang Nguon (north), a village two hours drive from Siem Reap.

Its customers, who have already suffered economically from the pandemic, are now becoming rarer, cornered by rising energy prices.

At 31, she who “sometimes reduces his rations“, is now worried about the health of her two children.

At the same time, food products have become more expensive: +5.6% in one year on average, with a peak of 35% for vegetable oil, according to data published in May by the World Food Program (PAO) .

Rising food prices are likely to exacerbate already high levels of malnutrition among children, as the country began to show signs of recovery from the economic shock of the pandemic“, said the Cambodian office of the United Nations for nutrition, in a statement sent to AFP.

– “Fears” for their development –

Galloping inflation threatens to undo efforts to tackle child malnutrition. Two out of three children under five were affected in 2014, according to the Cambodian government.

At the Angkor Children’s Hospital in Siem Reap, cases of malnutrition rose from 59 in 2019 to 77 two years later, including one death, that of a five-month-old infant.

Sometimes families are so poor that they have to dilute infant milk with water, Sroen Phannsy, a nurse in charge of the food service, told AFP.

We fear for their growth in the future, especially the development of their brain, which may be weakened by the time they have to go to school, at the age of five or six.“, she continues.

Before the pandemic, the 2020 floods had weakened the situation of a country vulnerable to climate change, with in particular prolonged periods of drought which dampen crop yields.

A team from the hospital is traveling through rural areas to identify the most severe cases before it is too late. NGOs have also been involved for years to fight the problem at the root.

– Free breakfasts –

For the past few months, Chhon Puthy’s family has depended on a free school breakfast program – rice, fish soup and vegetables grown in the school garden – for their children. which allows her to save the money she used to give them for the snack.

The community depends on these meals because every morning the parents are busy in the fields and do not have time to cook for the children.“, she explains.

Supported by the World Food Program (WFP), this school meal distribution concerns more than 1,100 establishments.

In the Siam Reap region, around fifty learning gardens where children can learn to grow their own vegetables have been created by NGOs with the assistance of the WFP.

This program allows students to have enough rich food and helps them come to class regularly. It has greatly reduced the absenteeism rate.“, noted Long Tov, director of an establishment in Chroy Neang Nguon.

There, after math or science lessons, students learn to harvest vegetables. Vireak, 12, jubilant: “in the garden, we are happy. Back home, I grow water spinach, beans and tomatoes.

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