Tuesday July 16, 2024

The burden of malnutrition

By Mansoor Ahmad
December 16, 2021
The burden of malnutrition

LAHORE: According to Food and Agricultural Organization’s overview of Food Security and Nutrition after Covid-19, Pakistan, India, Bangladesh, Nepal, and Afghanistan are among the countries with very high level of malnutrition in the world.

The overview states that disruptions in the economic, food, and health systems resulting from the Covid-19 pandemic are expected to have impacts on all forms of malnutrition. Estimates from the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) suggest that due to the pandemic, an additional 140 million people will drop into extreme poverty.

Pakistan, an agricultural country suffers from the worst form of food security. The regular increase in food inflation is making it go out of the reach of the population.

Take for instance stunting (low height-for-age) that reflects the effects of chronic malnutrition on child growth, with negative consequences for health and development. The number of stunted children under the age of 5 is around 38 percent in Pakistan. It is at 30 percent in India, 32 percent in Bangladesh and 35 percent in Afghanistan.

Child wasting is a serious, potentially life-threatening condition that results from insufficient food intake and/or frequent or prolonged illness.

It is the form of malnutrition most susceptible to the impacts of Covid-19, as households deal with food insecurity and other shocks with the potential to impact child health and nutrient intake very rapidly. Number of wasted children in Pakistan is the highest in the region, followed by Afghanistan, India, and Bangladesh.

Overall, the undernourished population is highest in Afghanistan at 40 percent, followed by India 14 percent, Bangladesh 13 percent and Pakistan 12 percent. Over 61 percent of the children in the age group 6-23 never tasted any fruit or vegetable and only 38.1 percent took egg as food.

Only 47.5 percent of the children in Pakistan are breast fed by the mother. Over 48 percent of women of reproductive age suffer from anaemia. Anaemia is prevalent in 52 percent of the children under the age of five.

Malnutrition impacts the health, productivity and learning ability of the population. Governments the world over strive to keep the food prices low to ensure adequate intake for the poorest.

We are passing through the worst period of our history as far as food intake is concerned. Every food with high nutritional value is now out of reach of the majority.

Milk rates have registered an increase of 50 percent in three years, wheat prices have doubled, and sugar is available at Rs91 per kg after strenuous efforts of the government. It was available at Rs55 per kg when this government assumed power. Similarly, edible oil has also gone out of reach of the poor and lower middle-income group. Its price has also doubled.

It is true that other economies of the region are also facing food insecurity, but Pakistan is ranked second after Afghanistan. The income level in other countries is also higher than our country.

Other factors that are squeezing the consumers is the regular increase in cost of doing business and cost of production. Our bank mark-up is twice that of our neighbours. Our rupee has depreciated many times more than the impact faced by other currencies in the region.

Our inflation rate is almost double than our neighbours and still increasing. The unemployment rate is rising and is further eroding the purchasing powers of the families.

Government writ is waning with every passing day, giving free license to the hoarders and black marketers to fleece consumers.

There must be a speedy turnaround in governance. If things continue as they are now, we may soon become the most inefficient and physically weak nation in the world.

We have already reached a stage when Pakistani workers are willing to go to the lowest paid economy in the world. This is just because they find no work at home.

The state should exert its writ, which would be only possible if every citizen is treated on merit and there are no sacred cows. The rule of law must be supreme.

Accountability must be fair, impartial and transparent. If things don't turn around now we will qualify as a failed state.

It would be a pity because this nation has got a lot of potential that has been wasted in political infighting. Fair and fast judicial system is the need of the hour.