Counting the cost of hunger

About a quarter of Namibia's children are stunted because of malnutrition, and this spells disaster for the country's future.

13 September 2019 | Agriculture

Namibia's current nutrition profile threatens the future of the country, seeing that about a quarter of children are stunted.

This is according to economic planning minister Obeth Kandjoze, whose speech was read by the ministry's executive director, Annely Haiphene, at the launch of the Cost of Hunger in Africa Study (COHA) for Namibia.

Kandjoze said Namibia, although classified as an upper-middle-income country, produces only 43% of its total national food consumption according to the latest Crop Prospects, Food Security and Drought Situation Report.

“As a result of many factors, the 2019 Food Security and Vulnerability Assessment Analysis (VAA) revealed that at the national level about 12% of the population is extremely food insecure and need humanitarian assistance during this drought.”

According to him an additional 15% of the population is moderately food insecure, meaning that they would not meet their daily food requirements of 2100 kilocalories even if they spent all their income on food.

Kandjoze said COHA aims to position nutrition high on the development agenda of the continent. It has received high-level endorsement from African Ministers of Finance, Planning and Economic Development in 2012 and by the African Union Heads of State and Governments in 2014.

The study aims to increase understanding of the consequences of child under-nutrition by estimating its social and economic costs on health services, educational achievement and national productivity.

According to Kandjoze, for Namibia the study will provide scenario-based analysis that projects savings gained from reducing under-nutrition, provide recommendations that will contribute to human capital gain in Namibia and provide the evidence base to justify the need to increase investment in nutrition.

“Africa and Namibia in particular need to invest more in nutrition as it is judicious and beneficial to improve not only physical work capacity, but also cognitive development, school performance and health, thereby reducing morbidity and mortality. This in turn, will lead to increase productivity, socio-economic growth and development, and poverty reduction,” the minister said.

Kandjoze said Namibia has placed food security and nutrition at the top of the political agenda by creating an enabling environment for improving food security and nutrition.

According to him the government recognises the crucial role nutrition plays in a nation's socio-economic growth and development.

This led to the formulation and development of the Zero Hunger Road Map, and now the National Food Security and Nutrition Policy, which policies will establish the National Food Security Council.

These efforts will contribute to the country's realisation of the United Nation's Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), Agenda 2063, World Health Assembly Targets, Namibia's Vision 2030 and the fifth National Development Plan.

“This is premised on the fact that sound nutrition is the foundation for child survival, growth and development,” Kandjoze said.

Good nutrition is recognised by the Convention on the Rights of the Child as one of the child rights for the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of health.

“Good nutrition, especially in the first 1 000 days (from conception to two years of age) of a child's life, also offers massive returns in health, education and productivity,” said Kandjoze. He said the most common immediate causes of malnutrition in children under five are inadequate breastfeeding and poor complementary feeding practices, poor care-taking practices, frequent infections such as diarrhoea through poor hygiene, malaria, pneumonia and poor maternal nutritional status.

“The study will serve as an advocacy tool that will help us appreciate how much savings as a nation we can make when we invest in nutrition,” Kandjoze said.

This is an initiative led by the African Union Commission (AUC) in collaboration with New Partnership for Africa's Development (NEPAD) as the planning and coordination agency.

It is implemented with the support of the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) and the Economic Commission for Latin America Countries (ECLAC).The study is to be conducted in all 55 states of the African Union.

ELLANIE SMIT

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