The United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) has called for an end to donations of formula milk for children in disaster areas, saying such breast-milk substitutes put them at high risk of diarrhea.
UNICEF representative to Indonesia Gianfranco Rotigliano said nutrition for infants and young children in emergencies was "of paramount importance and needs serious attention".
"We know a decline in breast-feeding indicates an increase in the use of formula milk, which, even if used correctly, is inferior to breast-milk," Rotigliano said in a press statement Friday.
Formula milk consumption among children under two in earthquake-devastated Yogyakarta has doubled thanks to donations of infant formula after the 2006 disaster, UNICEF found in a study with the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), the local health office and Gadjah Mada University.
As a consequence, the number of diarrhea cases among young children in the area increased six-fold, the study found.
"In fact, diarrhea is the second biggest killer of children in developing countries after acute respiratory tract infections," UNICEF spokeswoman Kendartanti Subroto told The Jakarta Post.
Disaster areas like Yogyakarta's Bantul usually lack access to clean water and the sterile utensils needed to serve artificial nutrients such as instant formula, making children prone to diarrhea, Kendartanti said.
"What's best for these young children is breast-milk," she said.
"We know through decades of medical research that breast-feeding children up to the age of two years, or even longer, gives them an optimum opportunity for growth, development and good health," Rotigliano said.
"In the first six months of life, it is the only food and drink a baby needs," he said.
Kendartanti said donors' good intentions after a disaster must be balanced by an understanding of children's actual needs.
"There has to be coordination among the benefactors" to decide on the most appropriate donations, Kendartanti said.
Similar objections also came from a coalition of more than 100 nutrition and emergency experts from 16 countries, who gathered in Bali from March 10 to 13 at a meeting organized by the Emergency Nutrition Network.
"The protection, promotion and support of infant and young children feeding in emergencies are inadequate. Inappropriate use of breast-milk substitutes in emergencies, often received as unsolicited donations, endangers the lives of infants and young children," the coalition said in a statement read out at the end of the meeting.
It called for action to improve the standard of food provided to infants and young children in emergency areas.