Long term support best to fix Indigenous food supply

Long term support, not crisis intervention, is needed to fix the food supply for remote Aboriginal communities, says Brian Doolan, CEO of The Fred Hollows Foundation.

Recent reports of a food supply crisis and emergency food drops in the Anangu Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara (APY) Lands of South Australia are an over simplification of nutritional issues affecting Indigenous people, not only there, but in many remote parts of Australia, said Mr Doolan.

"For instance, there have been remarkable improvements in the diet and nutritional health of children in the APY lands.

"Research by the local medical service under the supervision of Professor Paul Torzillo, from the Royal Prince Alfred Hospital Sydney, shows the rate of severe malnourishment amongst Indigenous children under five fell from around 30 per cent in the early 1990's to six percent in 2006.

"And studies this year show that, of 210 children surveyed, only two had a weight-for-age measure demonstrating severe non-birth-related growth failure."

"While those figures are still too high, they are not much higher than child malnourishment rates amongst non-Indigenous Australians from similar family income levels.

"There are many poor families in our cities and regional centres who are receiving food packages.

"To point to a very limited distribution of food by The Red Cross in one small town as indicating a crisis requiring some sort of emergency intervention seems to be missing the point, and risks pushing us into another knee jerk response which does little to alter long term problems.

"Food supply in remote communities throughout Australia is problematic. The high cost of transportation and lack of competition with many small stores means choice is very limited and fresh food is scarce and expensive.

"Compounded with poverty, it's no wonder there are dietary problems in the APY lands."

"For the past few years The Fred Hollows Foundation has been working with Aboriginal communities in the Northern Territory to improve food supplies through the development of locally owned stores, maternal health programs and nutritional education.

This development approach, we believe, has a better chance of success than emergency measures that will do little to overcome Indigenous disadvantage," Mr Doolan said.

> Find out more about The Foundation's work in Indigenous Australia.
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