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.