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FOOD in TIMES of DISASTER


by: Charina A. Javier, RUMD

Disasters like the Mayon Volcano eruption, the MV Solar I oil-spill and floods due to La Nina are being faced by the country today. Several communities are affected, losing their livelihood, some residents are leaving their homes, and their health and nutrition conditions are at-risk. Whether the disaster is natural, human-induced or a technology fowl-up, the challenge is how to relieve the people’s agony.

The Philippines is one of the calamity-stricken countries in the world. Located in the tropics and within the Pacific Ring of Fire, it is imperilled with typhoons, landslides, earthquakes and volcano eruptions. In addition, there are also cases of armed conflicts and technological accidents like nuclear explosions that also result to evacuation of village people or communities. Survival is a fundamental struggle for people experiencing disasters. Anticipating what may happen can make coping more bearable. However, during and after the disaster, acting at once is crucial.

One of the major concerns and part of the management of disaster relief operations is food and nutrition. Emergency feeding is supplying food or meals to victims of either natural or man-made calamity until such time when the disaster is over and the people are able to take care of themselves. The government and several organizations provide food to affected families and communities.

What foods should be given during disasters?
The kinds of food given during emergencies vary with the severity of the situation. At the early emergency stage, a few Hours to two days after the onset of an emergency, the people experience stress, anxiety and shock. At this stage, easy-to-serve quick energy foods high in calories, such as starchy roots and tubers, bread, instant soups, and juices should be given.

After the initial onset of disaster to rehabilitation, foods should be simple, nourishing and hygienically prepared. Conditions at the intermediate emergency stage are still far from normal but the initial shock is over.

Provide water, calories from energy-giving foods, protein from fish, meat and poultry for body repair, thiamin, the “morale” vitamin to help minimize nervous tension, and salt to conserve water in the body. Avoiding dehydration is very vital at this stage.

Easy-to-serve and easy-to-hold one-dish hot meals should be considered. Examples are champorado with tuyo, macaroni soup with milk, and mackerel with misua and rice.

When the worst is over and rehabilitation starts, the diet should meet the recommended energy and nutrient intakes (RENI) of each age group. Foods should include calories, proteins, vitamins and minerals contained in the usual Filipino diet. These are rice, fish or meat, fruits and vegetables. Example of an appropriate meal at this stage would be rice, pinakbet and candied fruit.

Moreover, drinking water is one special concern during disasters. Unsafe drinking water has been the most frequent cause of food-borne and water-borne diseases, such as diarrhea and cholera. Water must be boiled for at least 10 minutes, especially if the water source is not from approved public water systems.

All throughout the stages of disaster, priority must be given to infants, pregnant and lactating mothers, the sick and wounded, children and elderly. During the intermediate and rehabilitation stages, special consideration is also given to rescue workers who need to replenish their energy and build resistance.

The Food and Nutrition Research Institute of the Department of Science and Technology (FNRI-DOST) has developed several food products for emergency and disasters. Products that are affordable and convenient for food assistance programs during disasters include:

  • Compressed food – a ready-to-eat legume-based nutritious food with milk, vegetable and sugar. It is light, compact, convenient to handle and store and easy to distribute. It can be prepared into porridge by just adding hot water.
  • Instant Cream Soups – these products are made from combinations of vegetables and legumes with spices and flavors. They come in two flavors: Instant Squash Cream Soup and Instant Mongo Cream Soup. They are in powdered form, thus, are convenient to prepare.
  • Instant Noodles with Squash in Cups – an instant noodle enriched with beta-carotene naturally present in squash. Addition of boiling water to the product will give nutritious, hot chicken-flavored noodle soup.

The technologies of these products are available for adoption of interested entrepreneurs and organizations.       It is necessary that during disasters, people’s hunger must be gratified so that less people will get sick and will be malnourished. This helps relieve the conditions of casualties and maintain the morale of people. Attention then must be given to foods provided to lessen their distress about their situation.