A new study published in The Lancet suggests that developing countries as a whole have a less than 5% chance of meeting the UN’s Millennium Development Goal (MDG) target for the reduction of child malnutrition by 2015(http://www.thelancet.com/journals/lancet/article/PIIS0140-6736(12)60647-3/fulltext#article_upsell). The Article analyses trends in the weight and height (two simple indicators that can permit to define if the malnutrition is chronic or acute) of more than 7•7 million children worldwide between 1985 and 2011 in 141 countries. They also looked how levels are likely to change if current trends continue. It is the first large-scale study to provide a detailed examination of trends in children’s weight and growth in all developing countries.
Why this study is important?
The phenomenon of hunger does not only weigh on the individual, it also imposes a crushing economic burden on the developing world as economists estimate that every child whose physical and mental development is stunted by hunger and malnutrition stands to lose 5-10 percent in lifetime earnings. Moreover, the first two years of a child’s life are particularly important, as optimal nutrition during this period will lead to reduced morbidity and mortality, to reduced risk of chronic diseases and to overall better development. In fact, optimal breastfeeding and complementary feeding practices are so critical that they can save the lives of 1.5 million children under five every year.
Progresses are made …..
Professor Majid Ezzati, from the School of Public Health at Imperial College London, UK, and the article’s senior author, said: “Our analysis shows that the developing world as a whole has made considerable progress towards reducing child malnutrition, but there are still far too many children who don’t receive sufficient nutritious foods or who lose nutrients due to repeated sickness. Severe challenges lie ahead.”
To summarize the key results
• 61 of these 141 countries have likely a 50—100% chance to achieve the target – particularly in some parts of Asia and Latin America.
• The prevalence of moderate-and-severe stunting (insufficient growth in height for their age) declined from 47•2% to 29•9% and underweight from 30•1% to 19•4% between 1985 and 2011 in developing countries as a whole.
• In 2011, over 300 million children were mildly to severely stunted and over 250 million mildly to severely underweight, with 17 countries – mainly in sub-Saharan Africa and Oceania – seemingly undergoing no improvement in the number of children who are underweight or restricted in growth.
• Undernutrition worsened in sub-Saharan Africa from 1985 until the late 1990s, when height and weight scores began to improve. The deterioration may have been due to economic shocks, structural adjustment, and trade policy reforms in the region in the 1980s and 1990s. In Ivory Coast and Niger, nutritional status was measurably worse in 2011 than it had been in 1985.
• South Asia, the region with the worst nutritional status in 1985, has improved considerably, but undernutrition is still a major issue. About one half of the world’s underweight children live in South Asia, mostly in India.
• China has undergone the largest improvement in children’s height over the last 25 years, with Latin America and the Caribbean region also experiencing significant improvements in this area. The authors suggest that, in many of these countries, the improvements seen are down to overall improvements in the populations’ nutrition, rather than specific interventions targeting children at high risk.
• Some countries in Latin America, such as Chile, now have almost no undernutrition. The proportion of underweight children almost halved per decade in Brazil.
The statistics presented in this article suggest that in most countries, the improvements are due to population-wide improvements in nutrition, rather than interventions targeting high-risk children.
Moreover, according to Professor Ezzati, “There is evidence that child nutrition is best improved through equitable economic growth, investment in policies that help smallholder farmers and increase agricultural productivity, and primary care and food programs targeted at the poor. We mustn’t allow the global economic crisis and rising food prices to cause inequalities to increase, or cut back on investments in nutrition and healthcare.”
To continue in the same direction – strategies that can contribute to the improvement of the overall nutritional status of children:
In a book entitled “Just Give the Money to the Poor, The Development Revolution from the Global South”, the authors showed through a specific example that equitable economic growth at the community level permits a population-wide nutritional improvement, among other social and economic improvements.
In this book, the authors discussed a new strategy – direct cash transfers (CTs). These are regular payments by the state directly to poor people, similar to welfare in developed countries. The authors showed that this strategy can have a significant social and economic impact. CTs are affordable and the recipients use the money well and do not waste it. As a result, cash grants are an efficient way to directly reduce current poverty, and they have the potential to prevent future poverty by facilitating economic growth and promoting human development.
Something that perhaps you don’t know! And we didn’t know before reading this book.
45 countries in the Global South now give CTs to more than 110 million families. Every program is different, from universal child benefits in Mongolia to pensions in Africa to family grants in Latin America. Some grants are tiny – only $3 a month – whereas others give families more than $100 a month; some cover more than one-third of the population, and others aim only for the very poorest. The size of public spending varies from 0.1% of GDP to 4%, although most programs fall in the range of 0.4% to 1.5%.
What are the outputs/outcomes of this kind of program?
- Social protection and security for the young, old, disabled
- Development and economic growth – CTs give poor people the security they need to invest in higher risk/return options like new crops, or migrating in search of work
- Breaking intergenerational poverty by ensuring children are better nourished and educated than their parents
- Rights and equity – reducing income inequality and promoting the status of women
To give you a concrete example on how this strategy can impact the life of people
The villagers of Otjivero village (a very destitute rural community) in Namibia have received each month the equivalent of 15 US$ as part of a pilot study to evaluate the socio-economic impact of direct cash transfer.
One of the first and immediate results was the creation of a whole range of economic activities in this small village.
After two years, the program team that managed this pilot study was able to report:
• A decrease of the number of people living below the poverty line from 76 to 37%
• Less than 10% of the children were malnourished – before the experiment, almost half of children were malnourished
• 90% have finished their education – before, they were only 60%
• And crime has dropped
This pilot study has also shown that CT has an impact not only on production but also on demand. In Africa, the purchasing power is usually centered in a few centers, forcing people to leave the countryside to cities, where slums eventually spread. The CT allows rural to grow, it creates local markets and allows people to be self-sufficient.
When you know that you will recieve each month some cash to support your family, this brings some sort of financial security. This kind of initiative helps to ensure that the basic needs for the family are covered but also helps to invest in the future. It creates the first step to equitable economic growth.
Something to meditate!