Serious food for thought

The Shoklo Malaria Research Unit (SMRU), which is part of the Faculty of Tropical Medicine at Mahidol University in Bangkok, recently published a nutritional assessment of children in the migrant community around Mae Sot.  Prior to this research, no information on malnutrition in this community was available. The team surveyed 49 schools in and around Mae Sot, including approximately 5,000 children in total. The results are frightening.

Amongst children under the age of five:

  • the rate of chronic malnutrition, otherwise known as stunting, was 25.2%
  • the rate of acute malnutrition, otherwise known as wasting, was 9.2%
  • 21% were found to be underweight.

The rates for stunting and underweight are lower than some areas inside Burma, and quite similar to rates recorded in refugee camps. Children in Northern Thailand have half the rate of stunting and underweight than the migrant children surveyed by SMRU.

The rate of wasting was three times higher for migrant children than the rate for children in refugee camps

Approximately 49% of children at the time of this survey had access to one free meal a day when the survey was conducted in June 2009. Since that time, SMRU reports that a third of those schools who provided a meal are no longer doing so.  In general, this year, schools saw an increase, sometimes up to 15% in attendance. Food prices rose, sometimes doubling (in the case of the highly nutritious yellow beans), and food provision suffered as a result. In short, since this study was conducted, there are now more students, less money, and less food.

Please head to the SMRU website to download a full text version of the survey in order to get all the details and to learn more.

If you live in the UK and would like to do something, please visit this website and contribute to the Big Give Campaign to put feeding programs into as many migrant schools as we can. Thai Children’s Trust is also a donor to the Mae Tao Clinic”s Dry Food Fund, so giving there will get food to children as well. In Canada, you are welcome to send donations to Room to Grow and we’ll turn that money into food.

Room to Grow and our partners are very distressed by this report and will be working hard in the upcoming months to learn more and do more to solve this problem. Any help that can be provided would be greatly appreciated.

(Some Background)

The migrant community consists of people who have come from Burma to Thailand, but who cannot access the refugee camps for a number of reasons. One of those reasons is that the Thai government does not often accept applications for refugee status. Another is that the Burmese regime has changed tactics in recent years, opting for measures that have more to do with control than violence. Things like forced labor, burning fields and deprivation of livelihood have forced people across borders, as has the general economic decline brought upon the country by corruption, mismanagement and years of economic sanctions. Burmese migrants are extremely vulnerable in Thailand, as most have no legal status and can be subject to violence, discrimination and deportation. Many work in factories or as agricultural laborers, making a few dollars a day. And many, as this survey demonstrates, are unable to provide healthy food for their children on such salaries.

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