Lilongwe — A new project to establish best practices for tackling stunting is being launched in Malawi today. Recurrent food insecurity, poor dietary diversity and repeated illness are among the root causes of stunting (low growth for age) among nearly 1 million Malawian children under five - almost half the country's children in this age group.
The project, implemented in Ntchisi district in Malawi's central region, will reach 66,000 mothers and children over three-and-a-half years of age. It is designed to reduce stunting in the district by 5-10 percent as well as build evidence for the best ways of tackling the problem. Having been launched in Malawi, which has one of the highest rates of stunting in the world, the project will be introduced to Mozambique later in the year.
Malawi is currently experiencing a deteriorating food security situation following low crop production as a result of long dry spells and floods and high food prices. Now, during the height of the 'lean season,' the months before March when the next harvest is due, WFP is providing food assistance to more than 1.8 million Malawians.
Funded by the Children's Investment Fund Foundation (CIFF) at a cost of US$10 million, the stunting prevention project is supported by the Government of Malawi, and the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) and other members of the Scaling Up Nutrition (SUN) initiative. World Vision has been selected by WFP as the lead NGO partner for project.
"CIFF is pleased to join WFP, the Government of Malawi and SUN partners to promote the healthy growth of over 60,000 children," says CIFF CEO Michael Anderson. "We believe this is a great opportunity to achieve immediate results and to generate new evidence on ways to reduce stunting."
Evidence shows the potential to make the greatest difference in the lives of children lies in the crucial 1,000 days between conception and two years of age. The project complements the global SUN initiative established in 2010 to accelerate global progress on undernutrition and particularly on preventing stunting. Malawi was the world's first country to launch SUN and the 1,000 Special Days initiative in 2011.
"WFP's focus on prevention of stunting through right food at the right time and beyond is very exciting," says WFP Representative Coco Ushiyama. "Through strong partnerships, multi-sector engagement, a strong evidence-based approach and IT solutions, we want to show the world that we can and must address stunting."
The stunting prevention project involves 13 core nutrition interventions including the provision of complementary feeding, the management of acute malnutrition and safe hygiene practices. A specialised, ready-to-use product, Nutributter, will be provided to all registered children aged 6 to 23 months. The project will improve the lives of vulnerable children, while providing a blue print that will strengthen WFP's ability to implement stunting prevention programming globally.
The aim is to achieve 100 percent coverage of households with children less than two years of age and their mothers through a network of community volunteers.
Data from the Cost of Hunger in Africa (COHA) studies of undernutrition and stunting in other African countries have shown that undernutrition is not just a health issue, but an economic concern as well. The economic impact of undernutrition ranged from 1.9 percent of GDP in Egypt to a massive 16.5 percent of GDP in Ethiopia. The study, of which WFP is a partner, is currently focusing on Malawi.
Undernourished children are more likely to have low educational grades than healthy children. This makes them less qualified for work, reducing their income-earning potential in adulthood. The World Bank estimates that on average worldwide reducing stunting contributes to 3 percent improvement in GDP, whereas others estimate that number to as high as double digits.
This week, WFP and partners convene for the 2014 World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, united by their common goal to improve the nutritional status of children everywhere - a goal at the heart of the UN Secretary General's Zero Hunger Challenge to eliminate hunger in our lifetimes.