Food is a basic need which, if not satisfied, has the power to exploit human behaviour to the extent of defying the mannerism and human dignity. The same goes for the significance of nutritious, wholesome foods that, if not sufficiently consumed to the prescribed level, usher in dire consequences for the nutrient-deprived individuals, as well for the entire nation comprised of stunted masses and physically diminutive people whose fate is sealed for the rest of their lives.
Owing to the inherited curse of poverty that makes generation after generation satiate their immediate hunger one way or the other in place of fulfilling both their short and long-term nutritional needs, the country, as a whole, ends up dragging its existence on the map of the world compared to those nations that keep climbing the development ladder and lead a life full of meaning and purpose. Ours is the country that is not just materialistically deprived. It also tends to be among such third world nations that are also nutritionally backward and food insecure. Here such social evils as deep-seated hunger and chronic malnutrition are merely a common, routine sight, and no one affords recourse on the macro or micro levels.
Particularly in last decades, the state of malnutrition and undernourishment in Pakistan has been at an alarming level and despite makeshift measures taken by the government on an on-and-off basis, the threat of malnutrition keeps undermining both the present and the future of the country. It has resulted in abject economic failure as well as continued social deprivation at the cost of wasting human capital.
The recently announced budget for the year 2018-19, received mixed response. On the one hand it was termed pro-poor and business-friendly, while on the other hand it received its share of criticism from political parties who saw it as an attempt at pre-poll manipulation to win over voters. The budget may be analysed but one aspect that has escaped attention relates to allocation towards addressing malnutrition in the country.
As revealed by some latest statistics, nearly 46 percent children in Pakistan are suffering from acute under-nutrition, almost one-third are critically underweight and some 10 percent of malnourished children are at the risk of wasting. Given this grave situation, the country very soon will need to declare a malnutrition emergency at the national level since the phenomenon is not restricted to a specific area. The country’s children overall are being reduced into a stunted species that look like a human being, but lead the life of a destined two-legged parasite, lamenting the plight of Mother Earth, which is unable to adequately feed its children.
The outgoing government seems to have realised the gravity of the situation and has tried to address the situation in its budget recommendations.
As revealed in the recent budget speech of the finance minister, around 30 percent children in the country are stunted owing to malnutrition and the lack of access to fortified food. In partnership with international agencies, according to the Finance Minister, the government is going to launch a food-fortification programme to address the entrenched malnutrition crisis in general and to tackle the problem of physical and mental stunting in children in particular.
The speech says, “… allocating on the instructions of the Prime Minister at least Rs10 billion for a programme that will end child stunting. But if this programme gets off the ground quickly and needs more money, I again promise on behalf of the entire parliament that we will provide through supplementary grants any amount that is needed to end child stunting…., on behalf of my Prime Minister and this parliament to end child stunting in Pakistan by 2020.”
This indeed sounds promising and if the new government takes up the issue on a priority basis, the situation would improve drastically.
As if hailed from the wrong side of the world, children in Pakistan desperately need food security ensured in the form of regular, well-balanced diet that is enriched with micronutrients, proteins and vitamins, together with additionally fortified contents added to regular food items such as flour, milk, sugar, etc.
“Food fortification helps economies by reducing malnutrition, preventing estimated losses to the economy of as much as 2.65 percent of GDP,” says the World Bank report. On the government part, it has recently allocated a sum of Rs10 billion for a nutrition programme aimed at ending malnutrition and child stunting by 2020.
Under the initiative, as outlined in the budget 2018-19, flour mills will mix such critical micronutrients as folic acid, vitamin B12, zinc, etc, in the flour during the production phase before putting it for sale to the general public. The budget 2018-19 has also proposed withdrawal of three percent custom duty on the import of the micro-feeder equipment. If approved, this will help in ensuring the appropriate quantities of micronutrients added to the flour, thus playing a pivotal role in addressing malnutrition, especially in up to five-year-old children.
The government aims to start the programme immediately, which is a positive sign, but considering the severity of the issue the mainstream political parties should also come forward and include malnutrition prevention programme in their election manifestos.
Unfortunately, we live in a country where matters related to public health are usually put on the back burner by all the political parties. There is no denying the fact that malnutrition can be prevented/ eradicated, however, it needs to be a focus of the political leadership to ensure a brighter future for our children. One step the political parties can take would be to make it part of their manifesto for the upcoming elections and follow-up once the new parliament takes oath.
The writer is a communications professional