Child hunger, a moral and humanitarian issue with economic consequences (Google Alert / WFP)

Read at :

Google Alert for Poverty

WFP – World Food Program

Study finds child hunger costs Central America billions of dollars every year

Child hunger is not only a moral and humanitarian issue, but has economic consequences as well.” – WFP Executive Director Josette Sheeran

Panama City, 3 June 2007 – A new study has found that child undernutrition in Central America and the Dominican Republic in 2004 alone cost those economies US$6.7 billion – or 6.4 percent of the region’s entire Gross Domestic Product (GDP) – a burden that severely undermines international and national efforts to eradicate hunger and poverty. The in-depth study , which was carried out by the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) and the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC), is the first of its kind in the region.

Its findings will be presented at a parallel event during the Organization of American States General Assembly in Panama today, attended by several heads of state and government, as well as by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.

Wake up call

“This study is a wake up call to the international community that widespread child hunger is not only a moral and humanitarian issue, but it has economic consequences as well,” said WFP Executive Director Josette Sheeran.

Clearly, we will not be able to eradicate poverty in the region or in the world for that matter, until we take effective steps to tackle hunger and malnutrition.

Long-term costs

Undernutrition has very serious long-term costs, which are not limited to an individual’s life-cycle given the impact on intrauterine growth during pregnancy of malnourished women,” said José Luis Machinea, ECLAC Executive Secretary.

This cycle will more probably be repeated in their offspring and poverty will be perpetuated generation after generation if we don’t act to remedy the situation.

The study calculates the effects of hunger and undernutrition on health, education and productivity and then estimates the costs which include increased health care and education needs as well as decreased economic activity through lower productivity. It finds that 90 percent of the economic losses are caused by a higher incidence of mortality as a result of hunger-related illnesses and lower educational levels.

Growing urgency

The results of the study add to the growing urgency of efforts to eradicate undernutrition – measured in this case by weight for age – which results in irreparable physical and mental damage in children.

According to the study, the cost of child undernutrition varies between 1.7 percent and 11.4 percent of GDP for individual countries.

It’s expected that the country-by-country analyses will be launched in the near future in the respective countries. In the region as a whole, there are 880,000 underweight children, representing 14 percent of children under five in Central America and the Dominican Republic.

Last year, WFP provided food aid to more than 5.6 million people in ten countries in the Latin America and Caribbean region. These included more than 1.8 million children in Food-for-Education programmes and over 850,000 mothers and children benefiting from maternal-child health and nutrition interventions.

Decades of inaction

The authors underlined that the study reflects the economic effects of not acting in a timely manner to deal with nutrition. At the same time, they noted that the blame for current levels of undernutrition lies not with current governments but with decades of accumulated inaction.

We know that the Latin American region produces three times the amount of food needed to feed its population,” said WFP Regional Director Pedro Medrano. “This means there are grounds for hope, and an opportunity for governments and society to help children under age five to break the vicious cycle of poverty and hunger.”

Any program that can effectively reduce the levels of undernutrition will not only improve the quality of life of those affected, but will also increase productivity,” Machinea added. “The larger the problem the bigger the challenge, while at the same time the potential benefits to a country’s productive capacity stands to be greater.

Author: Willem Van Cotthem

Honorary Professor of Botany, University of Ghent (Belgium). Scientific Consultant for Desertification and Sustainable Development.

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: