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EDITORIAL: The level of acute malnutrition among children in this country is at a highly distressing level.

An estimated 10 million of them suffer from it, increasing during natural disasters, like the last year’s devastating floods that hit vast swathes of rural Sindh, Balochistan and southern Punjab.

A rapid survey conducted by the UN in 15 flood-affected districts suggests that nearly one-third of children aged 6-23 months are afflicted by moderate acute malnutrition and 14 percent by severe acute malnutrition, which is a life-threatening form of malnutrition.

As can be expected in this society, girls are affected more than boys. Further exacerbating the problem is the all-time high food inflation.

UN Resident Coordinator in Pakistan, Julien Harneis, has expressed grave concern over the situation saying, “even before the floods, child wasting was already reaching emergency levels, what I am seeing now in villages is very worrying.”

It should worry us all, especially the government and its policy planners. Poor quality or inadequate food leads to stunting of physical as well as mental growth of children, impacting their learning aptitude and the ability to fight disease.

Right nutrition, on the other hand, helps them develop their full potential and achieve self-actualization, contributing to national progress and prosperity as productive members of society. Sadly, at present, too many of our children suffer from stunting.

As dire as the situation is, it is not irreversible provided emergency measures are taken to make nutritional food for children available and accessible to the most vulnerable households.

The UN official has announced $ 5.5 million of the $ 6.5 million allocations received from the Central Emergency Response Fund for emergency nutrition and food security interventions.

There may be suspicions that some of it might be siphoned off by local unscrupulous elements. But they are to be routed through the UN International Children’s Emergency Fund, the Word Food Programme, the World Health Organisation and NGOs as part of the government’s flood response in the worst-affected areas of Sindh and Balochistan with the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs coordinating the effort to ensure that the funds are used in an efficient and transparent manner.

That though won’t be enough; a lot more is needed. As the UN Representative said, with only one-third of the nutrition interventions included in the Floods Response Plan so far, additional funding is urgently required to implement early identification and treatment of malnutrition in a great number of villages and healthcare facilities.

The government is already cash-strapped. Much of the required financial assistance, promised last year at the international donors’ conference, is yet to be received by the country.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2023

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