Pakistan has alarmingly high rates of malnutrition. Even with improved per capita energy intake, the rates of wasting (low weight for age) and stunting (low height for age) among children have remained unchanged for years. The country has entered the 21st century with a distressing 25% of its newborn infants weighing under 2.5 kgs and the burden of adding one million such infants to its population every year. These children have limited potential for physical development and educational performance, and lowered life expectancy due to premature onset of chronic diseases. This in itself is an overwhelming argument for making an investment in adequate nutrition for children in Pakistan.
There is a widespread perception that malnutrition is closely related to poverty. This relationship is complex and is strongly influenced by the degree and form of female subjugation in South Asia. It must be recognized that nutrition is more than food as poverty is more than mere income or assets. Although Pakistan has had several national nutrition surveys, there has been no national program aimed at redressing the root causes and effects of malnutrition. Tawana Pakistan Project (TPP) – a joint initiative of the Ministry of Women Development, Pakistan Baitul Mal and the Aga Khan University (AKU) – attempts to fill this vacuum through a three-year school nutrition package for girls.
The TPP is not just a food supplement, but part of a wider community-based intervention also targeting some of the underlying determinants of malnutrition such as household food security for women and children, food choices, etc. It is a safety net intervention which seeks to access the poorest of the poor. The strategy addresses malnutrition and micro-nutrient deficiencies in the girl child, and improvement in school enrollment and cognitive learning. The project uses an innovative participatory approach to build partnership between government departments and local communities through district elected representatives.
In its first phase, TPP is being implemented in 26 most malnourished districts of Pakistan with a targeted coverage of 650,000 girls aged five to 12, with an equal proportion of school enrolled and out-of-school girls. It extends to approximately 250 primary schools for girls in each district (6,500 schools in all) with participation of about 100 girls in each school location. The project will help improve their health by providing nutritional food and micro-nutrients besides annual de-worming exercise with them. The data collected from it will also help to facilitate future programming in the health sector in Pakistan.
SAP-PK has taken the responsibility to implement the project in six districts of Punjab (Bhakkar, Layyah, Lodhran, Pakpattan, Vehari and Rajanpur) along with seven other NGOs performing the same functions in other districts across the country.
The goals of TPP are to:
reduce gender and social inequalities;
increase enrollment and retention, and reduce absenteeism of girls;
access girls in the community who do not attend school;
improve the nutritional status of girls in primary schools and community;
provide access to safe water and sanitation facilities; and
organize communities into School Nutrition Committees comprising teachers, parents and students.