Some 795 million people in the world do not have enough food to lead a healthy and active life. This is about one in nine people on earth. The vast majority of the world’s hungry people live in developing countries, where 12.9 percent of the population is undernourished.
Asia is the continent with the hungriest people — two thirds of the total. The percentage in southern Asia has fallen in recent years but in western Asia it has increased slightly. Sub-Saharan Africa is the region with the highest prevalence (percentage of population) of hunger. One person in four there is undernourished. Poor nutrition causes nearly half (45 percent) of deaths in children under five — 3.1 million children each year.
One out of six children — roughly 100 million — in developing countries is underweight. One in four of the world’s children are stunted. In developing countries the proportion can rise to one in three.
Pakistan malnutrition problem has been highlighted by several studies over the years. A recently released report has revealed the extent of the problem is truly the study, launched by the Planning Commission and the World Food Programme, says that two out of every three households in Pakistan cannot afford a proper diet.
Experts say there are several reasons behind this deplorable situation, namely people’s lack of ability to afford nutritious food, accessibility to food as well as diet preferences.
Rural communities are the most affected, as many cannot afford even one proper meal. But even in urban areas, the situation is not encouraging.
Pakistan continues to suffer from as many as 2.5 million children struggling with stunted growth and more than one million underweight children below the age of five.
This is significantly more than the combined number of children in similar conditions in Afghanistan, Yemen, Somalia, Sri Lanka, Papua New Guinea, Iraq, Sri Lanka, Yemen, Afghanistan, Sudan, DR Congo and Ethiopia.
A report titled “Minimum cost of diet in Pakistan”, recently published by the Planning Commission and the World Food Programme says that nearly 67.6 percent of the households across the countries that fail to afford the proper, recommended nutrition.
The inability to access an affordable, nutritious diet is particularly prevalent in the rural areas of lesser developed provinces, such as Balochistan, where as many as 83.4 percent households are not able to pay for an adequate nourishment, closely followed by that in Sindh (70.8 percent), Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (67.4 percent) and Punjab (65.6 percent).
Another study by the same organizers also drew attention to the extremely poor quality of children’s diet in both rural and urban areas, giving rise to even poorer health conditions.
Like many other sectors for example security, education, healthcare the nutrition crisis in Pakistan needs to be dealt with on an emergency basis. Some officials have suggested, ‘food fortification’ programs — adding nutrients to staple foods such as wheat flour — may be one way to supplement diets.
It is also true that malnutrition affects women and children the most; therefore, school feeding programmes could be encouraged so that youngsters can have at least one balanced and nutritious meal a day.
The state needs to ensure that its most citizens have access to sufficient nutrition and don’t go hungry simply because they cannot afford to buy food.
Tackling malnutrition is possible should the state display its intention to do so. Pakistan needs is a series of mega intervention programmes in the form of targeted development, the likes of which have gained success in countries like India (Integrated Child Development Services), Bangladesh (Food for Education), Gambia (Institutional Support for Health and Nutrition), and the Philippines (Barangay) Integrated Development Approach for Nutrition Improvement of the Rural Poor).
Nevertheless, society can also join hands in this regard revolutionizing the public mindset into one that is free-of-all gender biases and superstitions. In lieu of reinforcing gender malnutrition, families should now adopt ideals that cater to the healthy development of all their members.
Around 66 million primary school-age children attend classes hungry across the developing world, with 23 million in Africa alone.WFP calculates that US$3.2 billion is needed per year to reach all 66 million hungry school-age children.
There are 795 million undernourished people in the world today. That means one in nine people do not get enough food to be healthy and lead an active life. Hunger and malnutrition are in fact the number one risk to health worldwide — greater than AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis combined.
The good news is that hunger is entirely solvable. There is enough food in the world to feed everyone and no scientific breakthroughs are needed. Today’s knowledge, tools and policies, combined with political will, can solve the problem.