KARACHI: Despite having 14 million acres under crop cultivation in Sindh, over 71 per cent households in the province are food insecure — the highest level of food insecurity among the provinces and region, it emerged on Sunday.
Of these food insecure households, 34pc are food insecure with moderate hunger and 17pc are food insecure with severe hunger, according to a report drafted by the provincial planning and development department.
The department prepared the draft in January ‘for discussion’ by its own research assisted with several reports of the World Bank, London School of Economics, World Health Organization, Unicef, Lancet, Pakistan Social and Living Standards Measurement, Save the Children, SDPI, SDC, World Food Programme and several independent researchers.
Between 2003-04 and 2008-09, the number of surplus food producing districts decreased from 11 to six while the number of food deficit districts increased, the report said.
Eight of Sindh’s 23 districts, most of them in the southern part of the province and in its coastal belt were identified as having ‘extremely poor’ conditions for access to food.
It said stunting was significantly higher in food insecure households but even in food secure households, stunting affected almost 40pc of young children in the province indicating that ‘food security improvement alone is insufficient’ to tackle the problem.
Sindh, with just under a quarter of Pakistan’s population, has a dangerously high rate of nutritional stunting among children below five years (49.8pc.) The prevalence of underweight children is 40.5pc, while wasting prevalence is 17.5pc. These are the figures that have not changed significantly in the past decade.
The report showed that stunting was recorded among 57 per cent and wasting among 26pc children of the families whose earning was less than Rs6,000.
It said some 50pc children of the families that earned less than Rs9,000 suffered from stunting and 25 of them from wasting. It was 46pc and 21pc among the children of families that earned less than Rs12,000, 43pc and 17pc of children faced stunting and wasting respectively in the families whose earning was less than Rs20,000 while the percentage was 33 and 14 of those children who belonged to the families whose earning was Rs20,000 or more.
The report said 33pc stunting prevalence in one of the surveyed populations in Sindh was higher than the national average for the D.R. Congo and for Sri Lanka.
Similarly, it added, 14pc wasting in a group in Sindh had approached the WHO public health emergency threshold level.
A high prevalence of stunting in children belonging to the rich families indicated that reducing poverty alone would not eradicate malnutrition and that important behavioural issues needed to be addressed even among the economically advantaged, the report said.
Similarly, stunting levels are roughly twice as high in households where mothers are illiterate, compared with those who are better educated, according to the report.
It said 54pc children of illiterate mothers suffered from stunting, 47pc children of mothers with primary education, and 37pc of children of mothers with up to matriculation level education and 27pc children of mothers having education of more than matriculation were found stunted.
The report said food insecurity, the limited or uncertain availability of or access to nutritionally adequate and safe foods throughout the year, was associated with malnutrition as a key underlying determinant of overall food intake in the household, although often less associated with the intake of women and children.
The report said coverage of health services relating to nutrition in Sindh was relatively low. Some 38pc of women received no ante-natal care (ANC) during their last pregnancy. Of women receiving ANC, only 10pc received information on the importance of exclusive breastfeeding, and only 0.1pc on family planning. Besides, only 56.7pc of pregnant women received micronutrient supplementation.
The consequences of such inadequate health services for pregnant women at the national level, inadequate food consumption, virtually non-existent services for adolescent girls and early age marriage are particularly serious in terms of pregnancy outcomes in Pakistan and result in the highest recorded prevalence of low birth-weight in Asia, which is 32pc.
Another indicator of the utilization of government health services is the type of practitioner consulted for illnesses.
In Sindh, 36pc of households used government facilities for childhood diarrhoea while 61pc used private dispensaries or hospitals. Only one per cent households consulted lady health workers.
The report said it was needed to make the government facilities more attractive to provide adequate nutrition services at public level.