KARACHI: Speakers at an awareness session on Tuesday identified Balochistan and Sindh as having the highest ratio of households below the nutritious diet threshold in the country.

These results were shared at a session on smart policymaking on eliminating hidden hunger, organised by Mishal Pakistan, the Country Partner Institute of the Global Competitiveness and Benchmarking Network of the World Economic Forum with support from the Australian High Commission, for journalists working on public health policy.

Data shared showed that the total number of households below the nutritious diet thresholds in Balochistan was 83.4 per cent, and 70.8pc in Sindh; followed by 67.4pc in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and 65.5pc in Punjab.

Experts said an estimated two billion people — over 30pc of the world’s population — suffer from deficiencies in essential vitamins and minerals. Hidden hunger is how health experts often refer to micronutrient deficiencies because most people affected do not show the visible physical symptoms and hence may not be aware of their condition.

Hidden hunger’s effects can be devastating, leading to mental impairment, poor health, low productivity, and even death. Its adverse effects on child health and survival are particularly acute, especially within the first 1,000 days of a child’s life, from conception to the age of two, resulting in serious physical and cognitive consequences.

Dr Shabbir Hussain of the International Islamic University, Islamabad, at the session said almost 24pc of the population in Pakistan was suffering on account of hidden hunger, while stunting and malnutrition were immediate challenges faced by society.

Experts present said the media needed to become part of the development agenda in Pakistan, to ensure transparency and accountability for quality service delivery to the citizens.

The smart policymaking initiative, they said, was to ensure the accountability of policymakers through media. They said awareness of nutrient deficiency levels of iron and iodine in Pakistan remained highest especially in the urban community with up to 42pc and 61.6pc respectively. Women and children remain the ultimate victims of these deficiencies resulting in high mortality rates.

Nida Karim said the initiative would help parliamentarians improve service delivery to citizens as well as improving Pakistan’s competitiveness on global footing, while creating accountability through the media.

She said that although the costs for nutrition per capita of Rs2,061 per month was lowest in Punjab as compared to Sindh’s Rs2,306, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa’s Rs2,152 and Balochistan’s at Rs2,415, the amount was still out of reach of average citizens’ buying power.

She said the organisation and the Australian High Commission were engaging policymakers and journalists across Pakistan to understand the dynamics of malnutrition in the country.

Journalist Nadeem Raza said the initiative could revive public’s trust in institutions however, what is necessary is professionalism and dedication to report on facts. “Journalists will lead this change by ensuring accountability of the relevant policymakers to ensure Pakistan’s commitment to achieve the Sustainable Development Goal 2 to eliminate hunger.”

Organisers said earlier sessions had been held with journalists from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Balochistan and Punjab on smart policymaking. Similarly, the parliamentarians from Sindh, Balochistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa had been briefed on the smart policymaking process.

The initiative Eliminating Hidden Hunger is aimed to improve the narrative building on nutrition by engaging various stakeholders including press clubs, journalist associations, policymaking institutes and academia across Pakistan.

The UN Sustainable Development Goals aim to end all forms of hunger and malnutrition by 2030, making sure all people — especially children and the more vulnerable — have access to sufficient and nutritious food all year round. Zero Hunger is one of 17 Global Goals that make up the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

Published in Dawn, August 2nd, 2017

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