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Malnutrition remains a stubborn problem in Nepal

New national data from Nepal for 2011 reveals that 16% of households in the country are still severely food insecure and correspondingly, 16% of young children (under-five) remain severely malnourished.

This rate is just above the World Health Organisation’s classification of a situation which presents an emergency level of acute malnutrition (15%) and is of huge concern after many years of effort by local and international organisations to improve the situation of child nutrition in the country.

According to the United Nation’s Children’s Fund (UNICEF), malnutrition is a factor in nearly two-thirds of child deaths in Nepal. And since the level of acute malnutrition has hardly changed over the last five years, the number of children at risk is increasing, because the population of Nepal is rising. Speaking to the news agency IRIN, a spokesperson for Nepal’s Department of Health admitted the concern of officials in the country over the increasing number of children who will be vulnerable “if we don’t act fast”.

Young children in rural regions are particularly at risk from severe stunting, with 17% of under-fives suffering from severe stunting in rural areas, compared with 6% in urban ones. The highest proportion of malnourished youngsters is found in mountainous parts of the country, where some form of stunting affects over half of all children. Here, factors such as lack of access to safe drinking water and proper sanitation and a lack of education about healthy childcare practices, play a significant role in the poor health of children. For example, it’s still common for mothers in poor rural areas to have little knowledge about nutritious food for babies and young children. Healthcare services available to women after the birth of the children are also frequently lacking.

However, local and international agencies working in the country have cause to hope the situation may improve. Formerly, malnutrition has been low on the government’s list of priorities as the country struggles to rebuild stability after the ending of the decade-long civil conflict. But now, the government has launched its first inter-ministerial national nutrition plan. And donors have promised to fund nearly 60% of the costs of the plan’s 150 million dollar budget for the years 2014-17.

Under the plan, more money will be targeted at nutrition interventions. And it is likely that more nutrition advisers will be hired in each of the five regional health offices. However, these improvements still depend largely on changes being implemented by the government and for that, the country desperately needs an end to the current political deadlock.

Laurinda Luffman signature