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Stunted growth fight: One step forward, two backwards

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MIHOWA— We are still in the woods

The 2021 Global Hunger Index (GHI), which has been released on October 14, indicates that Malawi is not doing well in terms of reducing cases of stunting among under-five children.

According to the index, which Welthungerhilfe and Concern Worldwide have produced, Malawi is on seventh position, with Pakistan being on sixth position while Guinea, Bangladesh and the Zambia are on position eight.

The report further indicates that, in terms of the national average, the stunting rate for under-five children in Malawi is at 41 percent.

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“After decades of decline, the global prevalence of undernourishment—a component of the Global Hunger Index—is increasing. This shift may be a leading indicator of reversals in other measures of hunger. Africa South of the Sahara and South Asia are the world regions where hunger levels are highest.

“Hunger in both regions is considered serious. Dozens of countries suffer from severe hunger. According to the 2021 GHI scores and provisional designations, drawing on data from 2016–2020, hunger is considered extremely alarming in one country (Somalia), alarming in nine countries, and serious in 37 countries. Inequality— between regions, countries, districts, and communities—is pervasive and, left unchecked, will keep the world from achieving the Sustainable Development Goal mandate to ‘leave no one behind’. It is difficult to be optimistic about hunger in 2021,” the index reads.

Welthungerhilfe Secretary General Mathias Mogge and Concern Worldwide Chief Executive Officer Dominic MacSorley indicate in the report that, “As the year 2030 draws closer, achievement of the world’s commitment to Zero Hunger is tragically distant. Current projections based on the Global Hunger Index show that the world as a whole—and 47 countries in particular—will fail to achieve even low hunger by 2030. Recent reports have already sounded the alarm”.

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Coincidentally, findings in the State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World 2021 indicate that cases of undernourishment were on the rise even before the Covid pandemic, which has only exacerbated the problem of food insecurity.

In addition, the Global Report on Food Crises 2021 indicates that the outlook for 2021 is “grim”, with the World Food Programme further warning that 41 million people are “teetering on the very edge of famine”.

The GHI tracks key indicators used for measuring progress toward Zero Hunger at national, regional, and global levels, reflecting multiple dimensions of hunger over time.

Mogge and MacSorley say of the 2021 Index: “It [the index] points to a dire hunger situation, a result of the toxic cocktail of the climate crisis, the Covid pandemic and increasingly severe and protracted violent conflicts.

“These forces have slowed or reversed previous progress in the fight against hunger.”

During the 2021 United Nations Food Systems Summit, at which Malawi participated, stakeholders committed to promote food security, at a time 155 million people are considered acutely food insecure.

Among its recommendations, the GHI urges countries to build resilience into food systems, including through climate adaptation and mitigation.

They further plead for greater global solidarity to respond to and overcome the Covid pandemic.

In May this year, during the dissemination of findings of budget expenditure tracking for nutrition which Oxfam organised, the Government of Malawi acknowledged that malnutrition in most people’s childhood was negatively affecting people’s contribution to national development efforts in later life.

Department of Nutrition, HIV and Aids Deputy Director Blessings Muwalo indicated that most Malawians did not have sufficient nutritious food in their early life days, which has affected development of their mind.

The malnutrition rate in the country – not necessarily that of under-five children— stands at 37 percent, which experts say is too high.

“You give a constructor work to do, he constructs a road but, within two or three days, the road develops potholes. The problem is in their heads.

“They had materials to construct a good road but, due to their thinking, they can’t construct a good road because they have a deficiency in their head. Most of the problems we have in the country are because we had stunted growth,” he said.

Oxfam Country Director Lingalireni Mihowa said, while the government had been investing in the nutrition sector, little had been achieved.

“We are still in the woods. We think we can still make more investments [in nutrition],” she said.

Nutrition Alliance Malawi has been advocating increased allocation to food security response programmes.

The Oxfam research tracked budgets from 2016-17 to 2020- 21 financial years and the main finding is that more resources are needed to improve the nutrition status of the Malawi population.

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