EDITORIAL: It’s is indeed most disturbing but no surprise, really, that Pakistan’s many crises – economic, political, social, constitutional – are now compounded by what the UN (United Nations) calls a nutrition crisis.
It turns out that nearly a year after last year’s catastrophic floods, Pakistan now faces a nutrition crisis that has been ‘aggravated by pre-existing high rates of malnutrition in flood-affected regions’.
Malnutrition is particularly high in children, quite naturally, accounting for nearly half of all deaths in children under five years of age. It is also shocking, according to a report released by the UN Office for the Coordination of Human Assistance (UNOCHA), that ‘one in five children in Pakistan suffers from wasting, with severe and moderate acute malnutrition rates at 8 and 9.7 percent respectively.
That’s not all. Factors that contribute most to malnutrition in both infants and expecting women have remained the same before and since the floods. These include poor maternal nutrition, inadequate sanitation and hygiene, suboptimal care and feeding practices, and limited access to essential nutrition services. It’s because of these reasons that even long before the floods Pakistan was making headlines for more than 60 percent of its children being born stunted.
And since living conditions for a vast majority of the suffering people are not likely to improve after their children are born with defects, they grow up to be of inferior stock, both mentally and physically; compromising the nation’s future workforce right at birth.
Economic problems, especially runaway inflation amid record unemployment, also feed into this nutrition crisis. The UNOCHA report duly elaborates that rising food prices and limited livelihood options further exacerbate the challenge of accessing food.
It expects the situation to worsen still between November 2023 and January 2024, with an estimated 11.8 million people likely to experience high levels of acute food insecurity. That’s why the latest FAO-WFP hunger hotspots report also identifies Pakistan as one of the regions of high concern.
And with the political and economic situation squeezing household incomes, and the cash strapped government unable to throw much money into such problems, there’s no telling how these issues are going to be addressed.
The country’s medical infrastructure is already inadequate to cater to its population, and almost came to its knees during the Covid pandemic. It also struggled in the face of last year’s floods. And there’s nothing to suggest that it is going to get any better anytime soon.
That the government doesn’t have too many options when it comes to such things is obvious enough. Yet, while it looks for donors for targeted funding (as usual), it can at least put together an action plan that can begin to address a problem that concerns the nation’s mothers and children and directly impacts its future.
A lot more than half the children all over the country being born with defects, and many of them dying in infancy because of easily avoidable problems like malnutrition, is simply unacceptable.
It’s a pity that such issues are never too high on the priority list of any government. All of them, without exception, are always blinded by the lust for power, and spend most of their time either trying to hang on to, or grab, power.
It’s bad enough that it took an outside institution like the UN to point out a problem that we should already have been solving on our own. But it’s much worse that nobody will lift a finger to improve the situation till someone else comes with a plan and the money to implement it. Such problems are proof that the country’s leaders have let its people down for far too long.
Copyright Business Recorder, 2023