Space-age foods like Plumpy'nut and BP-5 have become one of the best alternative to traditional foods to fight hunger after disasters like the Myanmar cyclone.
Easy to transport and ready to eat, they have a much longer shelf life than traditional foods, making it that much easier to aid Myanmar, where large numbers of children suffer from malnutrition at the best of times.
AdvertisementAnd kids even seem to like them.
"They're really like medicine in lots of ways," says Bruce Cogill, a global nutrition coordinator with the UN Children's Fund, UNICEF.
"These are high-end products. When they can't get them to a disaster zone, kids get gruel or porridge."
BP-5 is better known as a high-energy biscuit -- a space-age cookie packed with nutrients that gets called into service when, as aid agencies grimly put it, there are cases of "moderate starvation."
Plumpy'nut, invented just a decade ago by a French scientist, resembles a dried peanut-butter candy bar. Wrapped in foil, it is primarily intended for "acute severe malnutrition," the most dangerous level of hunger.
Both are high-tech solutions for an age-old problem -- how to keep hungry people alive.
Aid groups say Plumpy'nut can help kids gain up to two kilos a week -- which can mean the difference between life and death in Myanmar, where Save the Children said thousands of children will die soon unless they get enough food.
Two more advantages are that packages can be easily dropped by air, and that parents can give it to children themselves -- freeing doctors to treat others and allowing adults to focus their attention on younger kids.
"You can distribute it from a distance. The person can just take it," says Frank Smithuis, the Myanmar director for Medecins sans Frontieres (Doctors Without Borders).
"Previously we had to do six feedings per day supervised by one of our staff."
UNICEF's Cogill says: "If a child can swallow, they can break some off and put it in their mouths. And it can be done in a situation that's not medically supervised. It frees up the mother."
Packed with around 500 calories, the peanut-paste bar -- which has already come to the rescue in places like Niger and Sudan's desperate Darfur region -- is a remarkably quick fix when time is running out to save lives.
"They're full of vitamins," says Marcus Prior, a spokesman for the World Food Programme. "The zinc, particularly, is good for combating infection."
Given the sheer logistical challenges of modern global relief, it helps that both products last a long time. BP-5 keeps around five years, while Plumpy'nut will last for around two.
Which is more than can be said for most of the alternatives.
"None of this stuff tastes particularly good," says Shantha Bloeman, a UNICEF spokeswoman. "But when kids are this malnourished, it doesn't really matter."
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