Namibia: Government to Probe Undernourishment

20 September 2019

The study promises to generate data and information that will guide policy makers in finding alternative interventions to tackling malnutrition in the country.

WITH one in four Namibian children experiencing stunted growth as a result of malnutrition, Namibia is undertaking a study to establish the long-term economic and social effects of malnutrition in an effort to cut this figure by half, and ultimately eliminate it, by 2030.

Executive director of the National Planning Commission (NPC) Annely Haiphene revealed this at the launch of the Cost of Hunger in Africa (Coha) study last week. The study, which has been undertaken in 17 other African countries, promises to generate data and information that will guide policy makers in finding alternative interventions to tackling malnutrition in the country. "Measuring the cost of hunger in Namibia will help us understand the cause and consequences of malnutrition [and] understand the socio-economic impact," Haiphene stated.

The project is led by the African Union Commission and the New Partnership of Africa's Development (Nepad) planning and coordinating agency; and supported by the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (ECA), and the UN World Food Programme (WFP). UN resident coordinator to Namibia Rachel Odede said mulnutrition is a multi-faceted problem which is responsible for millions of deaths globally, and as a result, causes economic loss and slows down economic growth.

She added that malnutrition hinders the continent's efforts towards achieving the 2030 agenda for sustainable development. Odede cited the 2013 Namibia Demographic Health Survey (NDHS) statistics, which show that 24% of Namibian children under the age of five experience stunted growth - meaning they are too short for their age - as a result of malnutrition, and added that this affects their health, school performance, and ability to contribute to social and economic development later on in life.

"The 2030 agenda for sustainable development that promises to leave no one behind promotes sustainable solutions for many challenges, but many of the goals and targets are not achievable unless hunger and food and nutrition insecurity are eliminated," she said.

The 'Crop Prospects, Food Security and Drought Situation Report' compiled by the ministry of agriculture in July detailed that Namibia currently produces only 43% of its total national food needs. Furthermore, the Namibian Vulnerability Assessment Committee report (NAMVAC 2019) stated that about 289 644 people are experiencing food insecurity and need immediate food assistance. This number is expected to rise during the course of the 2019/20 consumption period, the report indicated.

"An additional 15% of the population is moderately food insecure, meaning they would not meet their daily food requirements of 2100 kilocalories even if they allocated all their consumptions to food," said minister of economic planning and director general of the NPC Obeth Kandjoze, in a speech read on his behalf.

Kandjoze noted that nutrition is an important pillar of Namibia's development agenda, and that the study will provide the country with scenario-based analysis that projects savings gained from reducing under-nutrition; recommendations that will contribute to human capital gains in Namibia, and an evidence base to justify an increased investment in nutrition.

The minister highlighted that the most common and immediate causes of malnutrition in children are inadequate breastfeeding and poor complementary feeding, poor care-taking practices, frequent infections from diseases such as diarrhoea because of poor hygiene, malaria, pneumonia and poor maternal nutrition.

"This is premised on the fact that sound nutrition is the foundation for child survival, growth and development. Good nutrition is recognised by the Convention on the Rights of the Child as one of the child's rights to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of health."

Angelline Rudakubana, WFP director and representative to the African Union and United Nations Economic Commission for Africa, said referenced findings from other countries which show that undernourished children have a higher risk of sickness, higher risk of dying at an early age, repeating grades and dropping out of school.

"They are less productive both in manual and non-manual activities. All these are additional costs to health, education and the economy in general," she said. "The truth is that ending hunger is not only about investing in people, but about investing in long-term economic and social development."

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