EDITORIAL: The malaise of malnutrition

KATHMANDU (The Kathmandu Post/ANN) - The availability of domestically produced food is a key issue.

Nepal just concluded hosting UNICEF’s Scaling Up Nutrition Movement held earlier this week. The country joined the movement in 2011 and was the fifth country to do so, making it one of the first few countries to do so. Nepal had pledged to work across sectors to embrace nutrition-sensitive and nutrition-specific approaches, and as a corollary, address the underlying causes and manifestations of malnutrition.

While that was a good start, it’s important to understand that food insecurity and malnutrition are closely linked. What’s more, quite often, poverty amplifies the risk of, and from, malnutrition.

The availability of, and access to, domestically produced food is a key issue affecting basic survival, nutrition, national security, and stability. Producing and distributing nutritious food as a public health measure should be a political priority. Many people, mainly in rural areas, struggle to find enough to eat to tide them over till the next day. Until the policymakers do not realise this, Nepal’s dream of ending hunger and achieving food security will remain a pipedream.

The government has introduced basic interventions to address these challenges. The Agriculture Development Strategy and Multi-sector Nutrition Plan (2013-17) was particularly formulated to reduce chronic malnutrition in the country. Yet, the Zero Hunger Strategic Review conducted in 2017-18 found that the country still suffers from severe food insecurity and malnutrition. In fact, according to a report, The State of the World’s Children 2019: Children, Food and Nutrition published by UNICEF, 36 percent of Nepali children younger than five years of age are stunted, while the global average in the developing countries is 25 percent.

Province 2 is especially battered by malnutrition. The Nepal Demographic and Health Survey 2016 report reveals that the figure of malnourishment, dwarfism and underweight in Province 2 is higher than the national average. The survey shows that 14.4 percent of the children suffer from malnutrition in Province 2 while the national figure is 9.7.

Nepal is among the world’s poorest countries, ranking 149th out of 189, with a Human Development Index score of 0.574 in 2018. The Zero Hunger Strategic Review report concludes that ‘out-migration of a young workforce, the feminisation of agriculture, difficult geography and poor infrastructure, poverty, significant urbanisation and a nutrition transition paired with shifting diets, and climate change and devastating natural disasters are threats to achieving food security and nutrition (FSN) for the country'.

We might have come a long way, but there is a multitude of challenges the country needs to address so that its population is healthy and hungry no more. For starters, further strengthening food security programmes and innovations in food technologies definitely play a significant role in reducing malnutrition to a large extent.

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