Stunting challenge

23 Oct 2020

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IT is tragic that some of our biggest challenges remain unaddressed, caught in the maelstrom of power politics from which there is no escape. Hunger and food security are two such issues. According to the National Nutrition Survey 2018, 40pc children under the age of five years are stunted in the country. These children are not likely to reach their full cognitive and developmental potential due to inadequate and deficient nutrition. What is also tragic is that for most of these children, stunting begins even before they are born. Around 14pc of women of reproductive age are undernourished while half the population of adolescent girls in the country is anaemic. Given the number of early marriages in the country and a raft of social mores that disallow women from taking independent decisions concerning their own sexual and physical health, it is no surprise that these undernourished girls and women go on to bear children whose physical, biological and mental development is lagging from the moment they are conceived. This is not all; nearly 13pc of our children have some form of functional disability, and two out of every 10 children under five years also suffer from wasting — a condition in which part of the body is emaciated due to lack of nourishment.

Our future appears to be in double jeopardy — at one end, high politics seems to have overshadowed all aspects of public welfare, while at the other, hunger is damaging our children’s bodies. The cost of malnutrition is high and varies across the country — 48pc of children are stunted in KP, 45pc in Sindh, 46pc each in GB and Balochistan, 36pc in Punjab, 39pc in Azad Kashmir and 32pc in Islamabad — but no action is taken and children continue to suffer for no fault of their own. Prime Minister Imran Khan talked about the issue in his maiden speech after coming to office in August 2018. It took two years, however, for the government to launch the Ehsaas Nashonuma Programme in nine districts in August this year, while the first meeting of the Pakistan National Nutrition Coordination Council was held earlier in the month. Though these steps should be commended, a broad-based and holistic strategy with targeted execution is required to tackle this mammoth problem. All the officials have to do is take care of the people of the country. High politics will take care of itself.

Published in Dawn, October 23rd, 2020