The questions that count

Can $1 save a life?

Feb 10, 2012

UNICEF’s Tim O’Connor talks about the 80c nut paste which is saving kids’ lives in East Africa


When it comes to donating money to charity, donors wonder how far their dollar really goes, especially when the amount given is just a couple of bucks in a tin can. Well in the crisis that is East Africa, $1 goes a long way — in fact 80c is the going rate to almost instantly save a child’s life.

That’s all due to a little bar called Plumpy Nut.

Read here about how Plumpy Nut is saving children’s lives.

When starving children finally reach one of the many UNICEF centres in the region, their level of malnutrition is quickly tested via an elastic wristband to determine their level of need. Those with malnutrition are immediately given the Plumpy Nut — a peanut paste which is packed with protein, needs no preparation and is eagerly devoured by children. Just three packets a day for six weeks will bring a starving child from the brink of death to normal nutritive health.

And, the aptly named Plumpy Bar has public appeal too, says Tim O’Connor of UNICEF, making it easier for small donors to feel their dollar makes a difference. And that’s where the media steps in.

“The Daily Telegraph ran an online campaign on the Plumpy Nut bar and a link below which raised $60k in two hours,” he said.

It just goes to show how crucial the media is in raising awareness. “We had already been running a campaign on East Africa and were getting nowhere until the international media flew in,” said O’Connor. “We raised $4m in two and a half months.”

Yet the dilemma between raising awareness and exploiting the needy is another problem UNICEF battles to overcome. Tim O’Connor discusses how depictions of the ‘beneficiaries’ of aid have changed over the years here.

Once the media goes home, it is the aid agencies left to continue the hard work.

“In Somalia they are much better now but we still have 350,000 kids who will die unless they get basic nutrition and that means aid dollars,” said O’Connor.

UNICEF’s current focus is on education and putting 67 million children into schools and encouraging them to stay there. It’s an entrenched and silent problem which doesn’t receive the same attention as an international disaster but which has crucial ongoing ramifications for developing countries.

“Last year there were 290 disasters compared with 110 in 1990,” said O’Connor. “Unfortunately, they take the focus off the silent problems which we battle on a daily basis.”

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