Malnutrition reality

17 Sep 2018

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A NEW annual UN report, State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World, warns that global hunger is rising to alarming levels last witnessed a decade ago. The report’s authors state that, among other key drivers, climate extremes contributed to rising hunger afflicting 821m people last year — the third annual rise since 2015. Worse still, malnutrition has left over 151m children under the age of five stunted, with Asia accounting for 55pc of the total. That climate shocks harm agricultural production, leaving people without enough to eat, is an inescapable reality in Pakistan. With more than 60pc of the population food-insecure, we are not just faced with emergency levels of hunger but also chronic hunger. Nearly 80pc of babies are deprived of adequate nutrition because of acute poverty. Resultantly, 44pc of all children are stunted. These figures tell a story of years of utter disregard for the less privileged. Moreover, it is of serious concern when a food-surplus country is a major producer of wheat and rice but its most vulnerable communities cannot afford to eat. Although Prime Minister Imran Khan’s commitment to ending hunger demonstrates that his government has prioritised fighting malnutrition, one has reason to be sceptical when strategies to alleviate poverty and hunger have hardly ever made it off the table in the past. Combating malnutrition requires reassessing whether people’s nutritional needs are being met. Policies must focus on those most vulnerable to the harmful consequences of poor food access — especially in Sindh where cyclical drought and floods cause death from severe hunger; and in districts of Balochistan and Fata where food insecurity is exacerbated by conflict and economic instability. Food fortification strategies and removing gender inequity are equally urgent measures.

While scaling up food interventions can break the cycle of malnourishment, strengthening the resilience of food systems in response to changing weather patterns is another challenge. Because undernourishment tends to be greater in regions highly exposed to climate extremes, a sustainable shift must be made towards agricultural methods that can provide safe and high-quality food. The government must realise that combating the many factors underlying acute malnutrition, including inadequate access to nutrient-rich foods, disease prevalence, poor healthcare, unsafe water and suboptimal breastfeeding practices, calls for political will, provincial resources and a dedicated task force committed to decreasing the number of children at risk of hunger-related death.

Published in Dawn, September 17th, 2018