The United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) and the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) have committed to working together to reduce child stunting in Eastern and Southern Africa in an effort to reach the UN Millennium Development Goals by 2015.
UNICEF Eastern and Southern Africa Regional Director Elhadj As Sy and WFP Southern, Eastern and Central African Regional Director Mustapha Darboe signed an agreement prioritising both goals and acknowledged the progress that had been made to address the nutritional factors hampering children's health.
"We're working together to address the scourge of child stunting caused by nutritional deprivation between birth and the age of two years," said Darboe. "It's shocking to note that there are twice as many stunted children in the region as the number of underweight children."
Stunting (low height for a certain age) indicates nutritional deprivation in the beginning stages of life. However, unlike underweight which is a combination of stunting and wasting (low weight for height), stunting past two years of age cannot be reversed. Stunting increases a child's risk of developing illness and eventually dying.
Countries lose an estimated three percent of their Gross Domestic Product (GDP) through the effects of under-nutrition.
UNICEF said that the prevalence of stunting in the developing world declined from 40 to 29 percent between 1990 and 2008.
Stunting in Africa only fell from 38 percent to 34 percent in the same period. Of the 24 countries that make up 80 percent of the world's stunting burden, at least seven are in Eastern and Southern Africa.
"Investing in child nutrition pays high dividends for a country's social and national development. Without action, billions of dollars in revenue will continue to be lost for the African nations experiencing the highest burdens of malnutrition. National nutrition strategies need to tackle not only the root causes of stunting, but also to target the most vulnerable children and their families - those in remote areas, or from the poorest and marginalized communities," said As Sy.
Only 11 African countries are on track to reaching the Millennium Development Goals to halve hunger by 2115. Of these only four are in the Eastern and Southern African region- Mozambique, Botswana, Swaziland and Angola.