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By Sheela Sinharoy

As the tragedy of the earthquake in Nepal continues to unfold, we see images of disaster response teams at work. How does assistance reach those who need it, especially in terms of meeting the food security and nutrition needs of the affected population?

In general, humanitarian response is led by the United Nations (UN) Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA). OCHA uses a cluster approach; in Nepal, the nutrition cluster is jointly led by the Ministry of Health and Population (MoHP) and UNICEF. Other UN agencies (e.g., World Food Programme), bilateral organizations (e.g., United States Agency for International Development or USAID), and non-governmental organizations (e.g., CARE) are all members of the cluster. In many countries, the cluster has regular meetings so that coordination and communication mechanisms are already in place before a disaster strikes.

Each cluster follows the guidance in The Sphere Handbook, which outlines minimum standards in the areas of water supply, sanitation and hygiene promotion; food security and nutrition; shelter, settlement and non-food items; and health. This handbook represents the contributions of many humanitarian agencies and is meant to have universal application to any humanitarian response. It particularly emphasizes affected populations’ right to dignity, protection, and assistance and promotes their active participation as a way to ensure the appropriateness and quality of the response.

The food security and nutrition section of the handbook includes standards for the protection of safe and optimal infant and young child feeding, management of acute malnutrition and micronutrient deficiencies, and food security. It states that food rations should meet the following nutrition requirements: 2,100 kcals per person per day, 10% of total energy provided by protein, 17% of total energy provided by fat, and adequate micronutrient intake. If the affected population has access to some food, then the ration should aim to fill the gap between what people can access and the nutrition requirements. There are many other considerations outlined in the handbook, including the cultural acceptability of the food ration and the ability of the affected population to store and prepare the foods.

According to the May 1, 2015 Nepal situation report issued by OCHA, more than 3 million people require food assistance. In line with The Sphere Handbook, the nutrition cluster has decided to standardize food assistance to include 400g rice, 60g lentils, 25g oil, and 7.5g iodized salt per person per day. Some of the food comes from in-country supplies, and some is brought in from other countries in the region. WFP, as lead of the logistics cluster in Nepal, manages this and has dispatched trucks and, in some cases, helicopters to carry food and other supplies to priority areas.

Disasters such as the earthquake in Nepal require an immediate expert response. OCHA and the nutrition cluster, by following The Sphere Handbook, are working to protect the nutrition of the affected populations in the most effective way possible.