The evidence tells us that malnutrition costs lives, perpetuates poverty, and slows economic growth. We now know that nearly half of all child deaths globally are attributed to malnutrition. I have seen in my own country, Indonesia, how stunting caused by malnutrition has diminished too many children’s futures before they even begin. Malnourished children are more likely to perform poorly in school and drop out earlier than their better-nourished peers, limiting their future earnings. Data from Guatemala show that boys who had good nutrition before age 3 are earning nearly 50% more as adults, and girls had a greater likelihood of having an independent source of income and were less likely to live in poor households.
Malnutrition diminishes not only the futures of individuals, but also of nations. Recent estimates suggest that as much as 11% of gross national product in Africa and Asia is lost annually to the impact of malnutrition. To end extreme poverty and promote shared prosperity, the world must commit to end child stunting due to malnutrition. I will be joining leaders from around the world in London this week to focus on this critical challenge.
In the policy discussions related to hunger, malnutrition, poverty and wellbeing, calorie intake is often the focus. Increasingly, however, micronutrient malnutrition appears to be a critical problem in many developing countries. Women and children are most vulnerable to micronutrient malnutrition due to their elevated micronutrient requirements for reproduction and growth. According to some estimates, nearly three billion people (including 56% of the pregnant and 44% of the nonpregnant women) suffer from iron deficiency anemia (IDA), and one-third of the world's population suffer from zinc deficiency. Twenty percent of the maternal deaths in Africa and Asia are due to IDA. One in every three preschool-aged children in the developing countries is malnourished. Undernutrition, coupled with infectious diseases, accounts for an estimated 3.5 million deaths annually. At levels of malnutrition found in South Asia, approximately 5% of GNP is lost each year due to debilitating effects of iron, vitamin A, and iodine deficiencies alone.
Photo Credit: Arne Hoel/World Bank
The numbers are jarring: Global prices for key food staples such as corn and soybean were at an all-time high in July 2012, with corn rising 25 percent and soybeans 17 percent in a single month.
Globally, food prices jumped 7 percent between April and July. In some countries, people now pay more than twice as much for sorghum  as they did a year earlier, the latest issue of the World Bank’s Food Price Watch shows.
This is expected to hit certain regions with high food imports, such as the Middle East and much of Africa, especially hard.
We’re looking at a significant price shock, but does that mean we’re headed for a food crisis similar to the one we experienced in 2008? World Bank economist José Cuesta, the author of the quarterly Food Price Watch report, gives his perspective on the situation.
Excerpt from Global Monitoring Report 2012.
Undernourishment measures the availability of food to meet people’s basic energy needs. The MDGs call for cutting the proportion of undernourished people in half, but few countries will reach that target by 2015. Rising agricultural production has kept ahead of population growth, but rising food prices and the diversion of food crops to fuel production have reversed the declining rate of undernourishment since 2004–06. The FAO estimates that in 2008 there were 739 million people without adequate daily food intake. More
“Haiti” and “food” and “nutrition” are words not usually seen together as part of an optimistic statement, rather the opposite. But as we commemorate World Food Day I believe there is a lot that Haiti can bring to the table to find a sustainable solution to its stubborn malnutrition problem.
This may sound like the world’s best kept secret, but it is partly the result of people, including ourselves sometimes, focusing on Haiti’s ailments rather than its progress.
Recently, I was once again confronted with a puzzling situation I have seen too often during the course of my career: flat growth curves for children. This especially worried me in light of the current context of rising food prices and global economic instability, and the impact that previous crises have had on the nutritional status of mothers and children.
…that too many children have died?
I adapt this from Dylan’s famous 1962 lyrics, but it is nowhere more true than for Adivasis or tribal peoples (called Scheduled Tribes) in India.
Come monsoon, the Indian media is rife with stories of child deaths in tribal areas, frequently reported as “malnutrition deaths”. Kalahandi district in Orissa for instance, had been a metaphor for starvation due to press reports dating back to the 1980s. Melghat area in Maharashtra has similarly surfaced in the press especially during the monsoon when migrant Adivasis return to their villages and to empty food stocks in the home. This is followed by public outrage, sometimes by public interest litigation and often a haggling over numbers.
We recently published a working paper that looks at child mortality among India’s adivasis – the starkest manifestation of their deprivation. We find that an average Indian child has a 25 percent lower likelihood of dying under the age of five compared to an adivasi child. In rural areas, where the majority of adivasi children live, they made up about 11 percent of all births but 23 percent of all deaths in the five years preceding the National Family Heath Survey 2005. While there has been progress in child survival over the years, and much greater vigilance, which often leads to these stories surfacing in the media at all, the fact remains that children in tribal areas are at much greater risk of dying than those in other areas.
The ongoing financial crisis has had many effects throughout the world. Political leaders are coming and going from office, banks are being bailed out, and central banks are pumping billions of dollars of borrowed money into securities to boost investor confidence.
Did you know that South Asia has the highest rates of malnutrition and the largest numbers of undernourished children in the world? About 38-46% of the population suffers from malnutrition, compared to 28% in sub-Saharan Africa.