Category Archives: Global Poverty

165 million children under the age of five globally malnourished.

Hunger kills more people worldwide than HIV, tuberculosis, and malaria combined, and children are the most vulnerable. According to the World Health Organization, an estimated 104 million children around the world are undernourished and 175.5 million suffer from stunted growth because their bodies do not have enough nutrients. Malnutrition and hunger-related diseases account for 35 percent (3.1 million) of the 8.8 million deaths of children younger than five each year. Malnutrition is a complex disease that can be caused by lack of adequate food, illness, and poor caring practices – but it is preventable and curable.

Stunting can lead to irreversible brain and body damage in children, making them more susceptible to illness and more likely to fall behind in school. Based on UNICEF’s report, IRIN has put together a round-up of the nutrition situations in six East and Central African countries that are among 24 countries with the largest burden and highest prevalence of stunting.

Burundi: Under-five mortality in this small central African country dropped from 183 deaths per 1,000 live births in 1990 to 139 per 1,000 live births in 2012. This is far short of the 63 deaths per 1,000 live births necessary for the country to achieve UN Millennium Development Goal (MDG) 4, which aims to reduce child mortality by two-thirds by 2015. An estimated 58 percent of children under age five are stunted, compared with 56 percent in 1987, according to demographic and health surveys from those years.

According to the UNICEF report, Burundi has made “no progress” on MDG 1, which aims to eradicate extreme poverty and hunger.

Central African Republic (CAR): An estimated 28 percent of under-five deaths in CAR occur within the first month of a child’s life; the biggest killers of children under five are malaria, diarrhoea and pneumonia. The percentage of children under age five who are stunted has changed little since 1995, standing at 41 percent in 2010, as has the percentage of children who are underweight, which has remained at about 24 percent for the last 18 years.

There has, however, been significant progress in the number of mothers exclusively breastfeeding their infants. In 2010, 34 percent of infants under six months old were breastfed, compared to just 3 percent in 1995. According to UNICEF, infants who are not breastfed in the first six months of life are “more than 14 times more likely to die from all causes than an exclusively breastfed infant”.

Democratic Republic of Congo: Africa’s second-largest country bears 3 percent of the global stunting burden, with 43 percent of children under age five suffering from stunting and 24 percent being underweight. Stunting is significantly higher (47 percent) in rural areas than it is in urban areas (34 percent).

The percentage of children who are underweight dropped from 34 percent in 2001 to 24 percent in 2010. DRC’s progress towards MDG 1 is described as “insufficient”.

Ethiopia: The Horn of Africa nation, which bears 3 percent of the global stunting burden, has seen a steep drop in stunting levels, from an estimated 57 percent in 2000 to 44 percent in 2011. The percentage of underweight under-fives has also dropped significantly, from 42 percent in 2000 to 29 percent in 2011. Between 2000 and 2011, under-five mortality was cut from 139 deaths per 1,000 live births to 77 per 1,000 live births – within striking distance of its MDG 4 target of 66 per 1,000.

A national nutrition programme launched in 2008 has been key to reducing national food insecurity, a major cause of stunting. The country’s health service extension programme has also played a role in bringing nutritional interventions to villages.

Rwanda: Community interventions – such as kitchen gardens and increasing the availability of livestock, as well as measures to boost healthy infant feeding practices like exclusive breastfeeding and the provision of nutritional supplements – saw the percentage of underweight under-fives in Rwanda drop from 20 percent in 2000 to 11 percent in 2010. Enhanced data collection and analysis has also enabled the government to improve its planning and monitoring of child malnutrition.

The report describes the country as “on track” to meet MDG 1.

Tanzania: Bearing 2 percent of the world’s stunting burden, Tanzania has made significant strides in improving child nutrition. An estimated 50 percent of infants under six months old were breastfed in 2010, compared to 23 percent in 1992. The country has also brought under-five stunting levels down from 50 percent in 1992 to 42 percent in 2010, but continues to suffer significantly higher stunting in rural children (45 percent) compared to urban children (39 percent).

Tanzania’s under-five mortality rate dropped from 158 per 1,000 live births in 1990 to 68 deaths per 1,000 live births in 2010, putting it close to its MDG 4 target of 53 deaths per 1,000 live births. UNICEF’s report says the country is “on track” to meet its MDG 1 targets.

[Courtesy of IRIN]

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Wild foods could improve nutrition and food security

10 April 2013 – Malnutrition could be greatly reduced and food security improved by ensuring improved access to nutrient-rich forest-derived foods like berries, bushmeat, roots, insects and nuts for the world’s poorest populations, experts say.

“I believe forest foods are particularly important for reducing malnutrition when it comes to micronutrients such as vitamin A and iron,” Bronwen Powell, a nutritionist and researcher at the Centre for International Research on Forests (CIFOR).

Making these foods accessible would mean bringing them to markets to benefit the urban poor, many of whom find imported fruits and processed foods unaffordable, and giving people legal access to forests to obtain bio-resources like game meat and honey in areas where it is illegal to do so.

Nutrient potential

Experts believe that while forest foods are underused, they could prove more affordable and more acceptable than other food options.

“With food becoming scarcer, there are calls for communities to look for alternative food sources and foods – some of which might not be readily acceptable to them – but wild foods and fruits have been a delicacy for generations and would be readily acceptable to many people,” said Enoch Mwani, an agricultural economist at the University of Nairobi.

In its 2011 Forests for Improved Food Security and Nutrition report, the UN Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) noted that households living on the margins of poverty could, during the “lean season” or in times of famine or food shortage, rely on forests to provide “an important safety net.”

Others, like Monica Ayieko, a family and consumer economist and an edible insect researcher at Maseno University, say more efforts are needed to change people’s perceptions about wild foods.

“The Westernization of diets has made people associate wild foods like edible insects – a vital source of amino acids and minerals – with poverty. It is a pity because so many children die as a result of nutrient deficiency, yet these are abundant in wild foods,” Ayieko noted.

Studies have recently suggested that insects are a better source of protein as they produce less greenhouse gases than cattle and pigs.

“We must broaden the use of wild foods like wild insects, like crickets, in poor people’s diets, and the good news is FAO has begun to take [the] lead on this,” she added.

Globally, an estimated 1.6 billion people rely on forests for their livelihoods, according to FAO.

Some 870 million people globally are food insecure, while a further 2 billion suffer from nutrient deficiencies.

In Tanzania, a 2011 study of 270 children and their mothers, conducted by CIFOR, revealed that children who consumed wild fruits from forests were more likely to have more diverse and nutritious diets.

The wild foods contributed over 30 percent of the vitamin A and almost 20 percent of the iron that the children consumed each day, even though the foods accounted for just two percent of their diets.

Another study in Madagascar revealed that 30 percent more children would suffer from anemia if they had no access to bushmeat. And studies in the Congo Basin show that bushmeat accounts for 80 percent of the proteins and fats consumed by the local communities.

Strategies needed

According to FAO , the critical role forests could play in improving food security and nutrition is usually “poorly reflected in national development and food security strategies. Coupled with poor coordination between sectors, the net result is that forests are mostly left out of policy decisions related to food security and nutrition.”

CIFOR’s Powell noted that “forest foods haven’t received much attention” in part due to the current method of “measuring food security in terms of energy [or calories] and not in terms of micronutrients, which has meant that foods that aren’t a good source of calories [but have plenty of micronutrients] have been overlooked.”

A lack of national policies to guide the use of wild foods, lack of knowledge about the benefits of such foods, and deforestation and land use changes continue to hamper access to these resources.

Bushmeat consumption is also dogged by concerns over conservation and possible health issues, which could result in calls for stronger policies to regulate their use.

Increased investment in forest development by governments and organizations, increased local control over forest management and use, pro-poor forestry measures, and the integration of forests into national food security strategies are some of the ways to boost access to forest-derived foods.

[Courtesy of IRIN]

Global: Measuring women’s empowerment in agriculture

Washington, 28 February 2012 (IRIN)

The global anti-poverty movement has added a new tool to its arsenal with the launch of an index that measures women’s empowerment in agriculture.
“Agriculture is the most effective way to drive inclusive economic growth of the poorest communities”, which too often include women and children, said Sara Immenschuh of the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI), a partner in compiling the index.

The Women’s Empowerment in Agriculture Index is a partnership between the US government’s Feed the Future initiative, US Agency for International Development (USAID), IFPRI and Oxford University’s Oxford Poverty & Human Development Initiative (OPHI). It uses five criteria to measure the empowerment of developing country women in agriculture, and in their own households.

Pilot programmes in Bangladesh, Guatemala and Uganda studied how engaged women were in decision-making about agricultural production, what sort of access they had to resources and how involved they were in resource-related decision-making; the extent to which they controlled how income was used; whether they were able to have a leadership role in the community; and how they used their time.

If a woman scored well on four out of five indices, she was considered empowered. The results differed from country to country, and the reasons for low or high levels of empowerment also varied.

In Bangladesh, just less than a third of women were empowered, with lack of control over resources, weak leadership and influence in the community, as well as lack of control over income the main reasons.

In Guatemala, the number was less than 25 percent. The less educated a woman was and the younger she was, the more likely she was to be lagging behind in empowerment. On the other hand, the more empowered a Guatemalan woman was in agriculture, the greater the influence she had in other key areas of daily life.

Lack of leadership in the community and control over use of income were the two biggest factors contributing to disempowerment in Guatemala, the report says.

In Uganda, 37 percent of women were empowered in agriculture and more than half enjoyed gender parity at home.

However, many women in Uganda said widowhood empowered them – because they did not have to waste time asking their husband’s permission to do things but just got on with them.

Ugandan women “who are empowered in agriculture also reported significantly greater decision-making and autonomy with respect to almost all domains”, says the report.

Surveys were conducted in 450 households in southern Bangladesh, and 350 each in the western highlands of Guatemala and northern, central and eastern Uganda, between September and November 2011.

One aim of the project is to help US government agencies and anti-poverty organizations to measure just how successful their programmes are at fighting hunger and poverty.

“We want to improve gender parity not by disempowering men but by bringing women up to the level of men,” said IFPRI senior research fellow, Agnes Quisumbing.

Although they make up 43 percent of the agricultural labour force, women in developing countries own less land, are limited in their ability to hire farm workers and have less access to credit, among other issues.

“Without addressing those inequities, women will be unable to effectively contribute to reducing global poverty and hunger,” said Immenschuh.

The Women’s Empowerment in Agriculture Index was launched on 28 February at the UN in New York.

[Courtesy of IRIN News]

AID POLICY:New Deal for Developing Nations

DAKAR, December 2011 (IRIN) – At the global aid effectiveness forum in Busan, South Korea, in November and December this year, the “G7+”, a group of nations which includes 19 fragile and conflict-affected states, agreed a New Deal on fragile states, which sets out concrete and, they hope, more relevant ways to improve peace- and state-building goals.

The New Deal will be piloted in Afghanistan, the Central African Republic, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Liberia, Sierra Leone, South Sudan, and Timor-Leste, with help from Australia, Belgium, the Netherlands, the UK and the USA.

It identifies five peace- and state-building goals as prerequisites for development without which “no MDG [Millenium Development Goals] will be met”, said Marcus Manuel, director of the Budget Strengthening Initiative at the UK’s Overseas Development Institute (ODI), one of the architects of the New Deal.

The goals include legitimate politics, security, justice, economic foundations and revenues and services. “If you don’t sort them [these criteria] out, no matter how many schools you build, if you haven’t figured out the payroll, you won’t be able to move forward,” Manuel told IRIN.

For years donor governments have struggled with how to approach development support to fragile states, which lack the systems or resources to process aid effectively, and often have high levels of corruption leading to low value-for-money.

Aid to fragile states has often propped up corruption, rather than weakened it, says the World Bank.

Some 1.5 billion people live in conflict-affected and fragile states, most of which are not on track to meet a single MDG.

However, the recognition that fragile states need a different approach to aid altogether, has gradually turned from policy and discussion – at the Paris and Accra aid fora and declarations for action – into a more concrete action plan, said Manuel.

New approach

Under the proposed changes (to be presented to member states at the UN General Assembly in September 2012 ) “compacts” with countries will be agreed, i.e. there will be a shared understanding of aid modalities and priorities drawn up by donors, recipient governments and civil society.

Rather than each donor assessing a recipient’s fragility, countries will be encouraged to carry out their own fragility assessments, which should create more apt solutions, Manuel told IRIN. For instance, the government of Timor-Leste deemed the need to re-house internally displaced people as a security priority once the conflict was over, and proposed giving each displaced family significant cash sums to do so. Donors said this approach was too expensive and would not work, but it did, and paid off, says the ODI.

With country ownership at the heart of aid efforts, donors should not shy away from direct budget support to fragile governments early on, if the right safeguards are set up first, says the ODI in a briefing paper. Donors waited five years after the conflict to invest in government structures in South Sudan, versus two years in Sierra Leone and Rwanda, and just a few months in Afghanistan, and in each example the early support was “critical” to rebuilding state structures, says the ODI.

In Guinea, deemed by many to be a fragile state, the health and public hygiene minister, Naman Kéita, told IRIN donor hesitancy to fund ministries directly, hampered their chances of setting ambitious agendas.

However, supporting national auditing systems, and strict financial safeguards come with this approach, stress aid analysts.

In other proposed shifts, donors will agree to streamline aid flows and their administration under the New Deal, for instance by setting up just one programme management and monitoring unit in each ministry rather than the current practice, where each donor may have its own. When the Rwandan government insisted on this approach, the capacity of its ministries started to increase rather than be over-stretched.

Practical things, such as caps on pay rates also need to be introduced, say the G7+, though the modalities are yet to be worked out. In Liberia, the UN was hiring well-qualified professionals at the same time as the government was, but the UN hired 10 times as many staff, and could pay them two to three times more, constraining the government’s ability to hire.


However, some practitioners with long experience of working in fragile states, say country ownership and dismantling corruption may not always be a priority for governments.

John Morlu, ex-auditor-general in Liberia, who some say was pushed out of the job because his anti-corruption probesthreatened high-level government officials, was skeptical. “I think we have to be very careful. We talk about countries taking ownership, but do they want to take ownership? I can think of cases in Liberia where it’s much easier to say, `This is UN driven, this is IMF [International Monetary Fund] driven’ because that gives you the political cover you need.”

Furthermore, local citizens may have priorities other than greater transparency and less corruption, Guinean and Sierra Leonean youths told IRIN: they want jobs more than anything else.

Manuel hopes that as country systems strengthen, development progress will also speed up – for now, patience is still required: a 2011 World Bank report estimates it takes 20-30 years to dismantle corrupt systems in a government.

[Courtesy IRIN News]

Global initiative to combat hunger among school children

The United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) and the Brazilian Government today launched a new initiative to help countries run their own national school meal programmes to advance the nutrition and education of children.

The Centre of Excellence Against Hunger, located in the capital, Brasilia, will assist governments in Africa, Asia and Latin America by drawing on the expertise of WFP and Brazil in the fight against hunger, while promoting sustainable school feeding models and other food and nutrition safety nets.

“As a world champion in the fight against hunger, Brazil has a wealth of experience that can be shared with governments eager to learn how they achieved that success and adapt it to their own countries,” said WFP Executive Director, Josette Sheeran, who is on an official visit to the country.

The Centre will provide a unique “South-South bridge” to ending hunger, she noted in a news release issued by the agency.

“Brazil has taken the fight against hunger and malnutrition seriously and is now among those defeating hunger faster than any nation on earth. We will partner to leverage this success to other nations seeking to end hunger and malnutrition.”

The South American nation has been recognized for its Fome Zero (Zero Hunger) strategy for reducing poverty and food insecurity and its school meals programme, which reaches about 45 million children per year.

The new Centre will be headed by Daniel Balaban, who has helped to provide school meals to millions of children when he was the President of the Brazilian National Education Development Fund.

During her visit to Brazil, Ms. Sheeran will also meet with President Dilma Rousseff, and commend the country for its resolve to continue the fight against hunger at home and abroad.

“I want to thank you for your leadership, for showing us what can be done to fight hunger at home, and also for your growing role in helping WFP on the frontlines against hunger around the world,” she stated.

Funded entirely through voluntary donations, WFP is the world’s largest humanitarian agency fighting hunger. Each day in 60 countries around the world, WFP provides school meals to around 22 million children.

[Courtesy of UN News Centre]