Nutri­tion cri­sis

The Pak Banker - - FRONT PAGE -

Ac­cord­ing to the Global Nutri­tion Re­port, Pak­istan faces a se­vere nutri­tion deficit. Ac­cord­ing to the re­port, the world is fac­ing a se­ri­ous nutri­tion cri­sis. An es­ti­mated 800 mil­lion peo­ple around the world go to bed hun­gry every night. In 2015, 156 mil­lion chil­dren un­der the age of five years were stunted (too short for their age which is a sign of chronic mal­nu­tri­tion) and 50 mil­lion were wasted (much too thin for their height - a sign of acute mal­nu­tri­tion). Child­hood stunt­ing and wast­ing re­mains a se­ri­ous prob­lem as more than 160 mil­lion chil­dren world­wide un­der five are too short for their age or stunted, while more than 50 mil­lion do not weigh enough for their height or are wasted.

The re­port says 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. The de­vel­op­men­tal, so­cial and health im­pacts of this bur­den are se­ri­ous and of­ten long last­ing.

The World Bank Pres­i­dent re­cently said that Pak­istan should ad­dress the high preva­lence of stunt­ing among its chil­dren on a pri­or­ity ba­sis. 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. He pointed out 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 "pro-poor", 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 mis­er­ably 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 our 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 or mal­nu­tri­tion and food in­se­cu­rity and al­lo­cated suf­fi­cient bud­get to tackle it on a long term ba­sis.

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