Stunting costs Malawi billions of kwacha


60% of Malawian adults reportedly suffered from stunting as children

LILONGWE, Malawi – Malawi loses billions of kwacha each year because its people are stunted due to under-nutrition at an early stage.

“We lose nearly 150 billion kwacha [about $600 million] annually due to the effects of child under-nutrition,” Finance Minister Goodall Gondwe told Anadolu Agency in a telephone interview.

“We have to invest more in interventions that can change this,” he stressed.

According to a study carried out by the Cost of Hunger in Africa (COHA), an African Union-led initiative, a whopping 60 percent of Malawian adults suffered from stunting as children.

“This represents some 4.5 million people of working age who are not able to achieve their potential as a consequence of child under-nutrition,” the study, released Wednesday, found.

Malawi has a total population of some 15 million, according to the country’s official statistics agency.

The COHA study found that under-nutrition resulted in poor cognitive development, decreased productivity and lower life expectancy.

It estimated that in 2012 alone, 16.5 billion Malawi kwacha (about $67 million) had been lost due to reduced productivity on the part of those who were stunted as children.

It urged Malawi to develop strategies to reduce the impact of child under-nutrition and scale-up interventions for the prevention and early treatment of the malady.

“Malawi is putting more resources in the 2015/16 budget to support nutrition interventions so that we have healthier people,” Gondwe told Anadolu Agency.

He said Malawi would also strengthen institutional and human capacities to provide the effective delivery of nutritional services.

Minister of Agriculture and Food Security Allan Chiyembekeza said that 47 percent of children in Malawi under the age of five were stunted, while 14 percent were underweight.

“The main causes are inadequate food intake, poor sanitation, frequent illnesses and poor childcare practices,” he told Anadolu Agency by phone.

Malawi wants to reduce its current 47 percent of stunted children to 23 percent by 2025, at an average annual reduction rate of 2 percent.

Chiyembekeza said malnutrition was the result of the country’s high levels of poverty.

“Malnutrition affects the poor and is the fundamental driver of poverty and inequality,” he explained.

“The government will spend $1.7 million – or 4 billion Malawi kwacha – to buy additional maize to avert looming hunger and ensure that Malawians have enough food,” said Chiyembekeza.

Malawi is currently grappling with yet another food shortage due to a recent spate of flooding.

Earlier this year, floods washed away crops in most parts of the southern region, killing 176 people, displacing some 200,000, and otherwise affecting more than 1.1 million people.

This year alone, Malawi expects a 28-percent reduction in the production of maize, its staple food commodity.