, NAIROBI, Kenya, Feb 15 – A new report by the global non-profit organisation Save the Children has revealed that 15 million more children are suffering from chronic malnutrition in Africa compared to twenty years ago.
In it’s latest report, “A Life Free from Hunger: Tackling Child Malnutrition”, Save the Children said that sixty million African children are malnourished today and that the number is expected to rise by 8.5 million over the next ten years if current trends continue.
The report is part of the global “Every One Campaign”, which calls for urgent action to stop needless deaths of children under five years from preventable causes and easily treatable illnesses.
According to the study, half of the world’s malnourished children live in Nigeria, Pakistan, Peru, India and Bangladesh, surviving on diets dominated by foods with low nutritional value such as white rice, maize, and cassava.
The organisation warns that unless this issue is tackled now, another half a billion children’s lives around the world will be destroyed by malnutrition.
Kenya has seen the number of starving children rise since 2003 and today 35.5 percent of all children in the country suffer from chronic malnutrition.
The situation worsened last year due to the drought that affected regions of northern Kenya, soaring food prices, and the economic downturn, which has made it difficult for families to buy enough of the right food for their children.
Kenya Country Director of Save the Children Prasant Naik said that the government has made some progress in reducing hunger and malnutrition, but a lot more has to be done.
“The country still lacks a strong political will to tackle child malnutrition, or nutrition champions to lobby for the right policies and practice,” he said. “There is very weak coordination between the authorities and aid agencies and funding levels for hunger and nutrition have remained low with a greater focus on other sectors.”
Prasant applauded the response to last year’s drought but is concerned that chronic malnutrition is not receiving the response it deserves.
“This is a crisis that we cannot ignore anymore as mortality rates due to malnutrition continue to rise,” he said. “Stunting impedes the mental and physical development of a child preventing the child from reaching their full potential, which undermines the human capital to drive the economy.”
The costs – both in human and economic terms – are huge.
A chronically malnourished child can have an IQ of up to 15 points less than a child properly nourished and economically, it is estimated that Kenya lost Sh95 billion due to stunting in 2010, and the overall cost of child malnutrition to the global economy was nearly Sh10 trillion.
Save the Children is urging for increased budgetary allocation to the health sector and specifically to nutrition related interventions and a multi-sector engagement to fund and implement the National Nutrition Action Plan, the country’s blueprint on nutrition intervention.
Every One Campaign Manager Wanja Gitonga said “We need to appreciate the gravity of the situation and take action to channel the manpower, the intellect and resources, coupled with the much needed political will to alleviate malnutrition.”