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Kenya/People and Projects

Malnutrition in Mandera
(16 July 2007)
Habibah and Zulaykha

Malnutrition is no stranger to the people of Mandera, in north-eastern Kenya. Most people in this arid region are pastoralists; semi-nomadic herdsmen who rely on their livestock for survival.

In 2006, a crippling drought wiped out 70 percent of the livestock. The animals that survived were too weak to produce meat or milk, a staple part of the local diet.

Mother in Distress

Malnutrition is most dangerous when it occurs within the first two years of life. It can damage general health and brain development, sometimes permanently.

Habibah, 20, and her two-year-old daughter Zulaykha, both suffered during the drought.

Although Zulaykha survived the drought, she fell ill a few months later. She suffered from diarrhoea and lost weight, becoming dangerously thin and weak.

Zulaykha became a different child, recalls Habibah. She cried a lot and had no energy to play. She was not the only one; there were many children in a similar condition.

Habibah fed her baby camel’s milk and water, and gave her medicine, but nothing seemed to help. Habibah could do little except watch in distress as her child got weaker by the day.

“I felt bad because Zulaykha was losing weight and there was nothing I could do to help her. Only God cares,” Habibah said.

Mobile centre

Habibah heard about IR’s mobile centre which was set up to tackle malnutrition. She took Zulaykha to the centre where IR staff weighed her and immediately put her on a high protein food supplement.

She received the supplement for 3 months, and slowly regained weight and recovered.

Zulaykha is now a lively and mischievous toddler, full of energy and life.

“I was relieved when she got better,” said Habibah. “I regret not having an education, but Zulaykha will go to school. I will never let her be like me, like the nomads.”

IR has expanded its project in Mandera and now has funding from ECHO to support more people affected by malnutrition. Around 3,200 malnourished children and 3,000 pregnant and nursing mothers have benefited from IR's malnutrition project to date.

Unimix for Zaytun


As a nursing mother, seventeen-year-old Zaytun needs more food and nutrients than other adults. During the drought when food and milk was scarce, she became vulnerable to malnutrition.

Zaytun became weak after Zamzam, her six-month-old baby, was born. When IR aid workers came to Lafey, they assessed her and put her on a supplementary feeding programme for nursing mothers.

Zaytun is provided with Unimix, a nutritious porridge mix, known locally as “uji”.

For breakfast Zaytun has tea with milk and some Unimix. Lunch is either rice, spaghetti or “ugali” (a maize flour porridge), while dinner is usually rice with beans. The extra protein from Unimix is a valuable addition to her diet.

Zaytun has been taking Unimix for five months so far and is beginning to regain her strength. Her baby, Zamzam, is also thriving and benefiting from her mother’s improved nutrition.

Nutrition in Mandera

The loss of their livestock has left many pastoralist families close to destitution, resulting in high levels of malnutrition in their children.

After the end of the drought, IR, in partnership with ECHO, has continued to tackle moderate malnutrition in children under the age of five. Many of the affected children are refugees from neighbouring war-torn Somalia.

Islamic Relief has also trained 22 Community Health Workers. The Health Workers provide health and nutrition education on breastfeeding practices, hygiene and sanitation practices, water safety and infant feeding practices.

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