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August 4, 2019

Let’s take notice


August 4, 2019

It should have triggered a heated debate in our federal and provincial legislatures. Instead, the National Nutrition Survey 2018 went unheeded. The report was dismissed much like other important issues faced by the more than 200 million citizens of this land.

The National Nutrition Survey is one of the biggest surveys in Pakistan’s history and covers both the rural and urban population of all four provinces, Gilgit-Baltistan and Azad Jammu and Kashmir. According to media reports, as many as 115,600 families, including 145,324 women, 76,742 children under five years of age and 145,847 minors aged between 10 and 19 years were studied during the course of the survey. According to the survey report released last month, over 50 percent of Pakistani families are unable to meet their nutritional needs which cause severe dietary deficiencies. This appalling situation has forced around 40.2 percent of all children in the country to suffer from chronic malnutrition and stunted growth. The survey, carried out by the Ministry of National Health Services (NHS), revealed that 36.9 percent of Pakistani households remain food insecure and lack reliable access to affordable nutritious food in sufficient amounts.

The survey also reflects our collective apathy towards our country’s children. Four out of every 10 children under the age of five in Pakistan are found to be affected by stunted growth. A lack of education and awareness is said to be a significant factor behind this. The study also discovered dietary discrimination in favour of boys over girls in a significant number of families in the country.

Our indifference towards our children is not limited to one particular field. For instance more than 1.5 million children live on streets in this country, around 25 million are out of school, more than 12.5 million are victims of child labour and over ten children suffer from some form of abuse daily. There has been some amount of legislation to address these issues but no practical action has been taken to ensure implementation.

The survey also draws a very sad picture of the country’s less developed areas. For instance in Balochistan, 73.7 percent of adolescent girls and boys are suffering from anaemia while 61.3 percent of women of reproductive age are suffering from this iron deficiency condition. The spectre of starvation is also haunting the residents of the province, with around 50 percent of the population facing food insecurity. In Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, over 20 percent of under-five children are underweight. The survey shows that in both Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and the newly-merged districts (Fata), adolescent girls and boys bear the burden of malnutrition. Over 30 percent of adolescent girls in the province suffer from malnutrition. More than half of them are also anaemic.

Bilawal Bhutto has claimed several times in the last three years that Sindh has the best health system in the country but the findings of the survey fly in the face of such claims. According to the survey, the province has the highest number of underweight children – 41.3 percent – in the country while the prevalence of stunting in the province, which is at 45.5 percent, is also higher than the national average of 40.2 percent. According to the data, five out of every 10 children aged five or under are stunted while two out of every 10 suffer from wasting. More than 10 percent of the children between two and five years were identified to suffer from some form of functional disability.

The Sindh government also seems to be negligent towards the well-being of women. The report claims that adolescent girls bear the double burden of malnutrition in the province and that 40 percent of them were found to be anaemic. Wasting was also found most prevalent among under-five children in Sindh (23.3 percent). The situation in Punjab, GB and AJK is not rosy either.

One wonders why our political elite does not express any concern over these important issues. The government is quick at forming commissions on every issue but should a body not be formed to ponder over the findings of this report and come up with a solution. Should we not try to understand why 67 percent Pakistanis lack a decent housing?

The opposition parties have every right to protest unfair treatment meted out to them and their cadres – but should they not create a political storm on the day-to-day problems faced by over 200 million Pakistanis. Should they not protest the extreme poverty, rising unemployment and skyrocketing inflation? Why do they not raise a voice over the demolition of slums, the razing of small businesses and displacement of people in the name of mega projects?

If the political elite continues to ignore important reports depicting the real picture of our social life, the trust of the people in the democratic system will wane. Such a situation will not only be catastrophic for politicians but the entire democratic system as well. Therefore, it is wise to pay serious attention to such reports and come up with a remedy.

PM Imran Khan expressed a strong desire to address these issues. He lambasted the N League for squandering precious national wealth over projects that hold no importance for the vast majority of people. He reminded us that nations develop by spending on people and not roads and motorways. The time has come to remind Mr Khan of his promises. The Kaptaan needs to be told that instead of running after small businesses, he needs to find out more than 273 individuals, some of whom are sharing power with him, who took loans from national banks and never repaid. He has to catch those big industrialists and feudals who according to the government’s own reports are involved in electricity and power theft.

The opposition and the government may differ on a range of issue. It is their democratic right to pursue different agendas and policies but they should have a consensus over the provision of basic amenities of life. So, let us begin with this issue of nutrition and come up with a joint agenda to address this issue on war footing. Let us form different committees of opposition and government members in parliament and in the provincial legislatures with a task to devise a mechanism for addressing housing, poverty, unemployment, inflation and other pressing issues – for which the people sent them to these legislatures.

The writer is a freelance journalist.

Email: [email protected]

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