GIVEN the tragic levels of malnutrition in Pakistan, it is no surprise that half the country’s under-five population is stunted and one-fifth of the entire population undernourished. Last year, when addressing this chronic nutrition crisis, the UK’s Department for International Development launched a five-year food fortification programme to provide financial and technical assistance to the government, mills and oil producers, for enhancing micronutrients in food in a cost-effective manner. With the potential to benefit women and children, this $48m project aims to reduce anaemia and vitamin A deficiency in communities most at risk. On Thursday, the Punjab government announced it would collaborate with DFID on a food fortification programmme to combat micronutrient malnutrition. Teaming up with industry bodies to support the fortification of staple foods (wheat flour, edible oil and ghee), such a mass-scale intervention is challenging. But it is not impossible. A good start would be for all political parties to pledge to stop hunger; in order to ensure continuity, projects combating malnutrition must not be owned by any one political party. Malnutrition must be tackled on a war footing by sustaining provincial collaborations and supporting multiple ministries and private partners in food programmes.

With food fortification assistance, the government must work on mechanisms for equitable distribution and transparency. Punjab with its eye set on the goal could lead the way. Because stunting is a result of malnutrition in the first two years of a child’s life, the root causes of hunger must be tackled. This has not been the approach in Sindh where alarming levels of malnutrition and the government’s reaction, akin to a head-in-the-sand ostrich, have fuelled the crisis. Multiple reports of child deaths in parts of Sindh are a blot on the conscience of this state whose responsibility it is to ensure a healthy population.

Published in Dawn, October 21st, 2017

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