© Helvetas
Bangladesh

A healthy diet for women and children

© Helvetas

One in two people in the Chittagong region is affected by poverty, and the proportion of chronically malnourished people is huge: depending on the district, one in two children is stunted in their growth and one in five is severely malnourished. The reasons for malnutrition are manifold: poor nutritional and health status of pregnant and breastfeeding women, insufficient breastfeeding, lack of access to nutrient-rich foods or lack of knowledge. In addition, there are frequent cases of diarrhea due to the consumption of contaminated water and poor hygiene. In Bangladesh, Helvetas supports ethnic minority families and informs them about the links between nutrition, hygiene and health and shows them ways to improve their diet.

  • Project Name
    Women and Children in the Chittagong Highlands improve their diet
  • Project Phase
    2019 to 2023
  • Funding
    This project is funded by donations and by the European Union.
  • Thematic focus
    Sustainable and Inclusive Economies

Ensuring access to an adequate, balanced diet

Switzerland has a population of eight and a half million people on 41,000 square kilometers. But what if it had 41 million people?  What seems inconceivable in our country is a reality in Bangladesh, where over 160 million people live on 160,000 square kilometers.

Nearly one third of them are officially poor, meaning they live on less than $2 a day. Poverty and illiteracy are particularly widespread in the Chittagong Hill Tracts, an area inhabited by 13 different minorities. After violent conflicts with the central government between 1977 and 1997, the “tribal peoples”, as they call themselves, lost large parts of their traditional lands to farmers and landless people from the lowlands, who migrated into the hills with the government’s approval. The majority of the population there depends on agriculture, but the slopes are difficult to cultivate. Markets, schools and health care facilities are difficult to reach, in some cases only by water. A large part of the mountain population is not literate and does not understand Bengali. As a result, village communities have little access to public services such as health care and agricultural extension, and lack knowledge about nutrition, hygiene and infant care, as well as information about existing government support services.

Sonja Akter was trained as part of the project and successfully grows vegetables for the market.
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Women are trained in healthy eating.
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© Simon Opladen/ Helvetas
The fields in the Chittagong Hill Tracts are often remote and extremely steep. © Simon Opladen/ Helvetas
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© Simon Opladen/ Helvetas
The project promotes cooperation and coordination between the various authorities, whose responsibilities and competencies are often unclearly regulated. © Simon Opladen/ Helvetas
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© Simon Opladen/ Helvetas
The vegetables are enough for home consumption and for sale. © Simon Opladen/ Helvetas
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© Helvetas / Simon B. Opladen
Phulshoba can also harvest more turmeric today because she has learned how to improve cultivation. © Helvetas / Simon B. Opladen
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In 3500 villages in this region in the southeast of the country, Helvetas is working with its partners to promote balanced nutrition for pregnant and breastfeeding women and children. Their better health and working capacity also benefit their families.
To introduce new behaviors, the project spreads messages about healthy eating, hygiene, safe drinking water treatment and, currently, COVID-19 prevention: through publications in local languages, songs, theater performances, broadcasts on local radios and public campaigns. Children and adolescents practice hygienic behaviors at their "Blue Schools," plant school gardens and fruit trees, and become ambassadors and role models for new hygiene behaviors in their families and villages. Youth clubs hold awareness-raising events in the villages and install simple hand-washing facilities.
As knowledge of healthy eating increases, so does local demand for nutrient-rich foods. With support from the Ministry of Agriculture, the project trains local farmers in vegetable and fruit cultivation, poultry farming and compost production, provides them with suitable seeds, sets up demonstration fields and promotes trade in nutrient-rich foods. Successful producers advise other families while generating income. The project provides vulnerable pregnant and breastfeeding women with access to government subsidies so they can buy healthy food.

«Malnutrition is the leading cause of disease, and vulnerable women and girls are at higher risk of death from inadequate nutrition than boys and men.»

United Nations Development Program

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