11 June 2013

Zimbabwe: Zim Children Facing Increasing Levels of Malnutrition and Stunting

The UN World Food Programme (WFP) has warned that Zimbabwe's children, a third of whom have already been left stunted as a result of malnutrition, are still at serious and increasing levels of risk.

In a report issued earlier this year on the state of food security in Zimbabwe, the WFP highlights how malnutrition is an ongoing problem. The report quotes figures released late last year by the Zimbabwe National Security Agency and Inner City Fund International. According to the latest Demographic and Health Survey of 2012, one in every three Zimbabwean children is stunted as a result of malnutrition.

The WFP says the prevalence of stunting among Zimbabwe's children, caused by lack of proper nutrition, has continued to rise since 2009 and is ranked as 'high' to 'very high' (according to global standings). The WFP says Mutare has the highest prevalence of stunting among children.

The WFP report 'Responding to Humanitarian Needs and Strengthening Resilience to Food Insecurity - Zimbabwe' was presented in February and looks ahead to the country's food security situation in the coming year. The global food agency said "the situation remains fragile," and "Zimbabwe is vulnerable to social, economic, political and climatic shocks." The group warns that this year, rural food insecurity will be even higher than it was last year, blaming issues like drought for the crisis.

The report details how Zimbabwe has experienced hyperinflation, political turbulence, extensive de-industrialization, large-scale emigration, a significant decline in domestic food production and cuts in human and financial resources for health, education, social services and agriculture.

The WFP makes no mention of the destructive land 'reform' policies implemented by ZANU PF over the last decade, which collapsed the agricultural sector and left Zimbabwe, once the bread basket of Africa, reliant on food aid.

Charles Taffs, the President of the Commercial Farmers Union (CFU), agreed with the WFP's forecast that food insecurity levels are going to be even higher this year than before. But he criticised the UN grouping for "missing the point" by only blaming weather patterns for the food crisis.

"Of course we're susceptible to drought, but we have to mitigate this. What you see now is Zimbabwe no longer has the fundamentals in place to mitigate this," Taffs said.

He explained that Zimbabwe has suffered many severe drought conditions prior to the implementation of the land grab campaign, and the country was still able to feed itself.

"If you look at the last 20 years, the last 10 years have been even wetter than the 10 before that, and yet food security statistics are far worse now," Taffs said.

He added that critically, the situation cannot improve until property rights are guaranteed in Zimbabwe, explaining how "there is no new investment because there is no guarantee that your investment will be protected." He said until property rights security was guaranteed, food security will continue to deteriorate.

In the meantime one third of the most vulnerable, the children, will be stunted.

Stunted growth is a reduced growth rate in human development. It is a primary manifestation of malnutrition in early childhood, including malnutrition during fetal development brought on by the malnourished mother. Once established, stunting and its effects typically become permanent. Stunted children may never regain the height lost as a result of stunting, and most children will never gain the corresponding body weight. It also leads to premature death later in life because vital organs never fully develop during childhood. Intellectual development is also impaired.

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