Nutri­tion cri­sis

The Pak Banker - - FRONT PAGE -

Ac­cord­ing to the Food Se­cu­rity and Nutri­tion Strate­gic Re­view for Pak­istan in 2017, food in­se­cu­rity is one of the great­est chal­lenges faced by Pak­istan. The overall preva­lence of un­der­nour­ish­ment is es­ti­mated to be about 18% of the en­tire pop­u­la­tion. The high per­cent­age of food in­se­cu­rity poses a di­rect threat to the na­tion and has re­sulted in a num­ber of detri­men­tal health-re­lated is­sues, women and chil­dren un­der the age of five be­ing the ma­jor suf­fer­ers. The health risks as­so­ci­ated with mal­nu­tri­tion are mor­bid­ity and in­fec­tions which lead to mor­tal­ity. The three ma­jor hits that we are fac­ing as a na­tion are stunted growths in chil­dren, anaemia in women who are of re­pro­duc­tive age and obe­sity in adults.

Pak­istan faces a se­vere nutri­tion cri­sis. The Global Nutri­tion Re­port 2015 said that only a small mi­nor­ity of chil­dren are grow­ing healthily in Pak­istan, which is es­ti­mated to have more than half the chil­dren un­der the age of five as stunted or wasted. The re­port claims that many coun­tries, in­clud­ing Pak­istan, Bangladesh, the Demo­cratic Repub­lic of Congo, Ethiopia and Nige­ria, had only a mi­nor­ity of chil­dren who were grow­ing healthily. Pak­istan's 2011 Na­tional Nutri­tion Sur­vey (NNS) showed high lev­els of stunt­ing (43.7%) and wast­ing (10.5%) in chil­dren un­der 5 years of age. Half of women of re­pro­duc­tive age are anaemic and the pop­u­la­tion suf­fers from a sig­nif­i­cant lack of vi­ta­mins and min­er­als. 1/3rd of Pak­istani chil­dren are un­der­weight and iron de­fi­cient, 15% are wasted and 14% women are ei­ther thin or wasted. The de­vel­op­men­tal, so­cial and health im­pacts of this bur­den are se­ri­ous and of­ten long last­ing.

Ac­cord­ing to WB data, Pak­istan has one of the high­est preva­lence of stunt­ing in the world: as many as 45% of its kids un­der the age of five face stunted growth. Ex­perts say that if the prob­lem of stunt­ing is not tack­led im­me­di­ately, al­most half of the work­force may not be able to par­tic­i­pate in the dig­i­tal econ­omy in about 15 years. Ac­cord­ing to the an­nual re­port of the Na­tional Eco­nomic Coun­cil, which was some time back placed be­fore the Na­tional As­sem­bly, one out of three Pak­ista­nis "does not have reg­u­lar and as­sured ac­cess to suf­fi­cient nu­tri­tious food". The re­port sug­gested that the "poor per­for­mance of the agri­cul­ture sec­tor in re­cent years" is re­spon­si­ble for this sit­u­a­tion, and that the rem­edy lies in mak­ing agri­cul­ture growth more "propoor", that is by di­ver­si­fy­ing the base of in­comes and cre­at­ing more link­ages be­tween the farm and non-farm sec­tors.

A re­cent World Bank re­port warned that mal­nu­tri­tion costs na­tions up to 3.0 per­cent of the an­nual GDP and mal­nour­ished chil­dren lose 10 per­cent of their life­time earn­ing po­ten­tial, while stress­ing that mal­nu­tri­tion in Pak­istan is the sever­est in the re­gion. The sta­tis­tics gath­ered from var­i­ous United Na­tions and donor sources in­di­cate that Pak­istan ranks below China, In­dia, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka on preva­lence of stunt­ing, mi­cronu­tri­ent up­take, ado­les­cent and adult nutri­tion sta­tus and var­i­ous other in­di­ca­tors di­rectly re­lated to nutri­tion.

Suc­ces­sive gov­ern­ments in Pak­istan have failed to ad­dress the is­sue of mal­nu­tri­tion and stunt­ing. Mal­nu­tri­tion in­creases Pak­istan's health­care costs, re­duces pro­duc­tiv­ity and slows eco­nomic growth. It per­pet­u­ates the cy­cle of dis­ease and poverty in the coun­try. The mal­nu­tri­tion cri­sis is a long stand­ing one but suc­ces­sive gov­ern­ments have paid lit­tle heed to it. Ex­perts say that Pak­istan can add 2-3 per cent to its GDP by tack­ling the is­sue of mal­nu­tri­tion. The para­dox is that de­spite Pak­istan be­ing one of the ma­jor food pro­duc­ing coun­tries in the world, 50% of its pop­u­la­tion is food in­se­cure. It is time the au­thor­i­ties con­cerned pri­or­i­tized the is­sue of mal­nu­tri­tion and food in­se­cu­rity and al­lo­cated suf­fi­cient bud­get to tackle it on a long term ba­sis.

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