Malnutrition in Pakistan. Europe must step forward – by MEP Oreste Rossi

With an announcement made on March 8, Kamran Zia, the chief spokesman for the National Disaster Management Authority of Pakistan, said that as many as 23 children have died in the villages of Tharparkar desert in the southern Sindh province since February, with another report raising the number to 100 during the last three months. This is only one of the latest incidents involving children in Pakistan dying from malnutrition in a country which has been exhibiting an alarming number of deaths caused by malnutrition and other reasons related to food safety.
A survey by the World Health Organization (WHO) shows that the number of underweight pre-school children (0-5 years of age) in Pakistan is 40 percent. Such children often remain weak and undernourished throughout life. The most recent estimates by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) state that 37.5 million people in Pakistan are not receiving proper nourishment. Islamia University of Bahawalpur (IUB) Vice Chancellor Muhammad Mukhtar said on Monday February 24, 2014 that Pakistan was among the three countries that accounted for half of all malnourished women and children in the world. According to reports 61 percent of the children in Pakistan suffer from iron deficiency anemia, 54 percent from Vitamin A deficiency, 40 percent from Vitamin D deficiency and 39 percent from zinc deficiency.
Malnutrition combined with diarrhea, pneumonia and tuberculosis (TB) are the biggest cause of child mortality in Pakistan. Each year 396,000 infants die, according to the Population Reference Bureau, a US-based body with Pakistan’s overall infant mortality rate being at 75 per 1,000 live births. Further, Pakistan has the highest rate of first day deaths and stillbirths at 40.7 per 1,000 births, whose one of the main causes is also malnutrition of the mother, followed by Nigeria (32.7), Sierra Leone (30.8), Somalia (29.7), Guinea-Bissau (29.4) and Afghanistan (29.0).
The 2010 flood was a crisis of an unprecedented proportion, submerging almost one-fifth of the country’s total landmass. Some 20 million people across the country were affected by the crisis, of which more than 10 million were found to be in need of immediate assistance. The recent floods added to the woes of the already fragile state of the country. Sindh and Baluchistan were the ones that suffered yet again, the water killing many and affecting 5.6 million people.
At the same time, the effects of militant extremism can still be felt in the north-west, exacting a heavy social and financial toll in Pakistan. Economic turbulence, power shortages and high food and fuel prices exacerbate instability, with unemployment on the increase and wage levels unable to keep pace with inflation rates. An average household spends almost 70% of its income on food leaving only 30% to cover their essential needs of education, health etc.
Poverty is Pakistan is still affecting the large masses with the vast majority of the population living under inhumane condition, not being able to afford the basics for the survival of their own and their children, suffering from pandemic diseases, while also being largely affected by the ongoing war inside the country. Draught has made the situation even worse but the main problem is found in the lack of an effective national policy to combat malnutrition and food safety issues within the country. The government in Pakistan has failed to reach its own people and safeguard a continuous and safe supply of food. Despite the funds that have been made available from foreign governments and the efforts of the NGOs, the Pakistani government has failed to capitalize on the outside assistance.
The issue of malnutrition can only be addressed by long term initiatives such as food security, child protection, empowerment of women, targeted agriculture safety nets and early childhood development programs. Girls should be educated and should be married at a late age to reduce chances of child mortality. Education needs to be promoted so that people are more aware and will eventually be able to escape from poverty and the toll it has on the lives of millions of people in Pakistan. Simple strategies such as the encouragement of breastfeeding and day care centers for working women’s children or allowing housemaids to bring their babies along, so that they will be able to feed them can bring a change.
All segments of the society, especially the media, the government and civil society must work in collaboration to resolve the issue of malnutrition. Federal and provincial governments to strengthen health systems so that women had better access to skilled birth attendants. The government should also provide more funding for maternal, newborn and child health programs so that the number of newborn’s deaths will be dramatically restricted.
The European Union also needs to take a more active role in this campaign. Providing funds to Pakistan directly or indirectly with tax exemptions will not provide the people of Pakistan with a solution to the situation they are currently being forced to live under. Accountability and continuous monitoring is fundamental and goals must be set so that the promised policies will actually be implemented.

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