Public Health Nutrition

Research Article

Food insecurity, malnutrition and mortality in Maewo and Ambae islands, Vanuatu

Andre MN Renzahoa1 c1 c2

a1 Program Quality Advisor, Program Effectiveness, World Vision Australia and Honorary Fellow, School of Health and Social Development, Deakin University, Australia


Context This paper reports on findings from the ex-post evaluation of the Maewo Capacity Building project in Maewo Island, Vanuatu, which was funded by World Vision Australia.

Objectives To examine the extent to which the infrastructure and systems left behind by the project contributed to the improvement of household food security and health and nutritional outcomes in Maewo Island, using Ambae Island as a comparator.

Setting Two-stage cluster survey conducted from 6 to 20 July 2004, which included anthropometric measures and 4.5-year retrospective mortality data collection.

Participants A total of 406 households in Maewo comprising 1623 people and 411 households in Ambae comprising 1799 people.

Main outcome measures Household food insecurity, crude mortality rate (CMR), under-five mortality rate (U5MR) and malnutrition prevalence among children.

Results The prevalence of food insecurity without hunger was estimated at 15.3% (95% confidence interval (CI): 12.1, 19.2%) in Maewo versus 38.2% (95% CI: 33.6, 43.0%) in Ambae, while food insecurity with hunger in children did not vary by location. After controlling for the child's age and gender, children in Maewo had higher weight-for-age and height-for-age Z-scores than children of the same age in Ambae. The CMR was lower in Maewo (CMR=0.47/10 000 per day, 95% CI: 0.39, 0.55) than in Ambae (CMR=0.59/10 000 per day, 95% CI: 0.51, 0.67) but no difference existed in U5MR. The major causes of death were similar in both locations, with frequently reported causes being malaria, acute respiratory infection and diarrhoeal disease.

Conclusions Project initiatives in Maewo Island have reduced the risks of mortality and malnutrition. Using a cross-sectional 'external control group' design, this paper demonstrates that it is possible to draw conclusions about project effectiveness where baseline data are incomplete or absent. Shifting from donor-driven evaluations to impact evaluations has greater learning value for the organisation, and greater value when reporting back to the beneficiaries about project impact and transformational development in their community. Public health nutritionists working in the field are well versed in the collection and interpretation of anthropometric data for evaluation of nutritional interventions such as emergency feeding programmes. These same skills can be used to conduct impact evaluations, even some time after project completion, and elucidate lessons to be learned and shared. These skills can also be applied more widely to projects which impact on the longer-term nutritional status of communities and their food security.

(Received April 04 2005)

(Accepted November 17 2005)


c1 *Corresponding author: Email

c2 Correspondence address: World Vision Australia, 1 Vision Drive, East Burwood, Victoria 3151, Australia.