Food Selection Criteria in an Urban Disaster Response Plan

by Shaun DMello on  August 13, 2015 at 5:49 PM Health In Focus   - G J E 4
Whether it's nature unleashing her fury through earthquakes, floods, fires, cyclones, blizzards, heat waves or ice storms, or man-made mayhem such as chemical spills and industrial accidents, disasters can wreak havoc on the environment and entire populations.
 Food Selection Criteria in an Urban Disaster Response Plan
Food Selection Criteria in an Urban Disaster Response Plan

When disasters occur, international and national aid and relief organizations step in to provide assistance to the affected population. All of these organizations have different objectives, skills and resources to offer and when such a large number of organizations become involved in collective disaster management efforts, it becomes essential for proper centralized coordination and planning. Failure to draft effective plans can contribute to the chaos and confusion greatly hampering relief work. To formulate an effective emergency response plan, it is vital to anticipate and identify problems in a timely manner.


Emergency Food Supply is a Critical Aspect of any Disaster Recovery Plan

Food is the most basic requirement for survival and it becomes even more important in disaster situations where there are thousands of sick, homeless and distressed people who are vulnerable. An important aspect of emergency relief that is often neglected is nutrition, as emergency feeding needs to do more than satisfy hunger. In the absence of adequate food selection criteria, malnutrition remains unaddressed and can exacerbate the consequences of a disaster. Evaluation of food quality is a prerequisite to emergency food planning as a 'disaster response diet' is one of the pillars of an effective disaster management plan. A recently published study in Nutrition Journal investigated and elaborated on the planning required.

Food Selection Criteria Study

A team of researchers led by Michelle Wien and Joan Sabaté conducted a three-phase multidimensional study to determine the ideal food groups for the creation of a 'Disaster Response Diet' (DRD). While Phase One only focused on evaluating a food serving with 11 specific food groups measuring daily percentage of nutrient intake and the NNR score or Drewnowski's naturally nutrient rich score, in the Second Phase, these food groups were also assessed taking into account certain DRD criteria. The criteria considered included ease of handling and storage of the food, ease of preparation and cultural acceptance or personal tolerance.

Perishables like fresh fruits and vegetables may be highly nutritious but they are vulnerable to damage and have a short shelf life. This makes it impractical in disaster situations. At the same time, simply providing a displaced or destitute population with nutrient dense therapeutic foods can be counterproductive, as cultural acceptance of foods and individual preferences come in to play.

In several situations, it has been found that certain foods are considered unacceptable because of religious, cultural or ethnic backgrounds and very often because the foods are considered unpalatable. In such situations, it is not uncommon for those in need to use these foods to feed their cattle and other animals rather than themselves. To these populations cattle, livestock and farm animals are a richer source of milk and food. This is why both criteria are equally important.

Phase Three of the study focused on evaluation of DRDs that were formulated based on the findings from phases one and two of the study.

Implications of the Study on Disaster Response Diets (DRD)

Based on their research, it would appear that plant-based foods should form the backbone of any DRD. Such DRDs can satisfy the nutritional requirements of urban populations in the event of any kind of disaster. Nutritional professionals are therefore urged to follow a plant-based approach when planning relief food aid for homes, organizations or government agencies.

Nuts and dried fruit should feature prominently in any DRD for reasons that should actually be very obvious. They are highly nutritious, energy dense, easy to transport and have a long shelf life, acceptable in all cultures, not forbidden by any religious or cultural group, require little to no processing or manipulation before being transported or consumed. Many dry fruits and nuts are also extremely affordable.

It should be noted, however, that the research was focused on the broad nutritional needs of a disaster afflicted population rather than on those suffering from severe malnutrition. Disasters like famine and wars that cause large scale displacement and starvation require a more therapeutic approach. The study also does not offer any recommendations with regard to the setting up of temporary kitchens, staffing and budgeting, all of which factor in a disaster management plan.

Other Considerations

When it comes to food planning as a component of disaster management, the United States Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) recommendations are worth noting. The recent study echoed these recommendations that emphasized the importance of practicality and utility of the food in a disaster situation, not just its nutrient density. The key is to strike a balance between nutrient density and foods that are shelf stable and do not require any refrigeration for preservation. Foods that pose minimal concerns with regard to sanitation in their natural form are also ideally suited to disaster planning.

In addition to providing food aid, food and water safety is a huge concern in the aftermath of any kind of disaster. Food and water contamination can greatly accentuate human suffering and it is all too often the aftermath of a disaster that gives rise to a humanitarian crisis. Provisions should be made to provide access to safe drinking water, especially to infants and children and lactating mothers. Fluid is also essential for those who are sick and suffering from vomiting, diarrhea and fever. If there are problems providing a population with clean drinking water, steps should be taken to enable the population to use common methods of water disinfection.


1. Wien, Michelle, and Joan Sabaté. "Food Selection Criteria for Disaster Response Planning in Urban Societies." Nutrition Journal 14 (2015): 47. PMC. Web. 5 Aug. 2015.



Source: Medindia

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