Income growth is great, just not for reducing child undernutrition | 

Nurse in Somalia measures child for malnutrition signs.
Nurse in Somalia measures child for malnutrition signs.
Enough / Laura Heaton

One out of every four kids in the world were not growing at the right rate (stunted) in 2011. That is a decrease by one-third over the past two decades. Similar improvements have been made on reducing the number of underweight children, but millions are still at risk.

The solution to the underlying problem of undernutrition in children sounds easy enough. Kids need nutritious foods to provide the vitamins, minerals and calories to help them grow and stay healthy.

Food access can be a barrier, but money is needed to buy it. Hence, the reason for giving food aid or vouchers to people who are struggling. Therefore, it stands to reason that improving the economy of a country can lead to the income increases that will allow families to buy food for their children.

That is what is supposed to happen. The thing is, it doesn’t.

Evidence from 36 countries shows that an improving economy does not help to reduce childhood undernutrition. A paper, published in the British medical journal The Lancet, looked at 121 Demographic and Health Surveys from 36 countries between 1990 and 2011.

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$2.4 billion raised for Syria crisis does not allay concerns | 

Mideast Lebanon Syria Refugee Students
A Syrian teacher, left, teaches on the first day of classes at a private school built for Syrian refugees in the southern port city of Sidon, Lebanon.
AP Photo/Mohammed Zaatari

International donors and charities pledged a total of $2.4 billion in aid for the Syrian crisis. It is only a fraction of the $6.5 billion needed to respond to the largest UN appeal ever.

A two-day conference in Kuwait brought together charities, donors and other global actors to rally support for the humanitarian crisis in and around Syria. The first day saw charities and NGOs pledge $400 million in aid. Kuwait led the way on Wednesday by pledging $500 million.

Roughly 70% of the $1.5 billion pledged in a similar conference last year has materialized to date. There is little reason to be confident that all of the money promised this week will be disbursed.

The three year old crisis has displaced an estimated 9 million people. An international response to the humanitarian problems caused by the fighting in Syria has struggled to meet increasing needs. Neighboring countries who are hosting the more than 4 million refugees are struggling to support all the incoming people.

“No country, no people should face hardship or calamity for helping Syrians in need. It is vital for this region and our world that the burden is shared. Let us reward the compassion of Syria’s neighbors with generosity and solidarity,” said UN Secretary General Ban ki-Moon.

The situation is getting harder.
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The 10 stories you missed while following the Philippines | 

The disaster following Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines rightly has dominated the global twenty-four hour news cycle. Humanosphere has devoted more of our reporting time to the issue than anything else this week. With nearly one million people displaced and close to twelve million affected, the scope of the problem is vast and the relief effort has a long way to go.

While we were paying attention to the Philippines, there were other notable news stories that garnered less attention. Here are ten notable events and happenings (presented in no particular order) that you might have missed this week. It is by no means a comprehensive list. Do add anything else of note in the comments section.

1) Polio is worse this year in Pakistan, so the region is taking on the challenge by working together.

Gates Foundation

The number of polio cases in Pakistan have already exceeded the total from 2012. Health officials announced Wednesday that there are sixty-two cases of polio in 2013. The total for 2012 was fifty-eight. Pakistan is one of only polio-endemic countries, alongside Afghanistan and Nigeria.

Attacks on polio workers over the past year have hampered the effort to vaccinate children. An estimated 240,000 children living in the northwest were not vaccinated in August due to a ban by the Taliban.

The problem is affecting neighboring countries. An outbreak of polio in Syria was recently linked to Pakistan. To deal with the issue, the WHO is working with twenty-one Middle Eastern countries to stop polio in its tracks. However, much of what happens in Pakistan is out of the control of the UN and its neighbors.
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Fending off malnutrition in Chad, in Photos | 

Malnutrition takes a serious toll on children living in Chad. The vast West African nation features a fertile south and a cut off desert north. When rains do not fall or they fall too much crops are destroyed. Poor road systems make it very hard to get food into the North. In fact, the World Food Programme has to travel through Sudan and the troubled Darfur region to get food to people at risk in the north. That is an easier option that simply driving food from southern Chad or Nigeria to the south-west.

An estimated 4.2 million people are in need of humanitarian assistance in Chad, says the UN. Only 36% of the $510 million need to respond to the crisis has been funded as of the middle of this year. Much of the problems stem from insecurity in neighboring countries, such as Sudan and the Central African Republic, that forces people to seek refuge in Chad.


new photo series (Disclaimer: photographs may be emotionally distressing to some viewers) from photographer Pep Bonet (seen right) shows attempts by one hospital in Chad to treat children with malnutrition. Saint Joseph’s hospital in Bebedjia must treat children who many times arrive at their most vulnerable. He opens by describing the problems faced by Chad that range from food insecurity, poor health services and the increasing refugee population.

Despite the good economic results achieved during the last decade, two-thirds of the population still live in absolute poverty. In addition, limited health coverage and the poor quality of health care services foster child mortality levels.

The Assessment Capacities Project (ACAPS) lists Chad as a country suffering from a severe humanitarian crisis. Malnutrition levels are on the rise in parts of Chad and increasing at worring rates among girls under five years old, warns the International Medical Corps.

“These severe acute malnutrition figures are extremely worrying, even for a region that regularly experiences food insecurity,” said Esther Busquet, International Medical Corps Roving Nutrition Advisor for the Sahel. “We are particularly concerned for the health of young girls, who appear to be especially badly affected.”

HT Sean Langberg

Exposing the hidden hunger of micronutrient deficiencies | 

Measuring for malnutrition in Madhya Pradesh
Measuring for malnutrition in Madhya Pradesh, India

There is a hidden form of hunger that receives less attention that it deserves, say some advocates. While the world malnutrition will evoke thoughts of hunger and lack of food, meeting the caloric needs of a person is not enough to ensure adequate health.

Micronutrients are the minerals and vitamins that are in food.  Zinc, iron and vitamin A are among the crucial micronutrients that ensure the health and proper development of children. A lack of micronutrients can cause slowed physical growth (stunting) and weaken immune systems to the point of endangering a child’s life.

Hidden hunger accounts for 7% of the global disease burden and comes with a global cost of $180 billion each year. The issue of micronutrient deficiency captures less attention than hunger. That is due in part to a lack of adequate data to display the problem to political leaders. Enter the Hidden Hunger Index.

Researchers collected data on micronutrient deficiencies in young children to map areas where the problem is concentrated.  ’Hidden hunger hot spots’ were found in India, Afghanistan and sub-Saharan Africa. Continue reading

Vizualize Malnutrition | 

Hungry Child
DFIDAt a recent summit in London, more than $4 billion to end hunger and malnutrition.

At a recent summit in London, donors pledged more than $4 billion to end hunger and malnutrition.

Hunger is one thing. Malnutrition is another. To begin with, hunger sounds like a problem that’s fairly easy to solve, in concept anyway. If hungry people are given food, problem solved. Malnutrition is more insidious. Young children who are chronically malnourished, even if later given food and kept from hunger, suffer long-term mental and physical damage.

And it exacts a massive financial toll as well: Read our post from last week on Malnutrition’s Global Cost: $3.5 Trillion.

Online data visualization tools created as part of the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation’s Global Burden of Disease Study can be used to better understand why malnutrition is such a major health threat globally. These tools can also be used to track progress the world has made fighting this scourge.

Katie Leach-Kemon, a policy translation specialist at IHME, part of the University of Washington, walks us through some of these tools below. Check out the links to access the interactive version of the tool hosted at the Institute:

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Global leaders try to get serious about hunger | 

BigIF G8 rally and Hunger Summit
Young people participating at the BigIf rally in Hyde Park.

As the leaders of the world’s economic powers gather to discuss the state of the global economy and find common ground on pressing international issues, nutrition is featuring as a main topic.

New research from the Lancet says that malnutrition is responsible the death of 3.1 million children a year. A number that represents just less than half of all deaths for children under five years old.

Advocates pressed on the UK, host of the G8 summit, to commit to end hunger. Continue reading

Malnutrition has a Global Cost: $3.5 Trillion a Year | 

DRC: Serge Laba, the senior paediatric nurse in Masi Manimba hospital, checks the weight of a malnourished child.

Russell Watkins/DfID

DRC: Serge Laba, the senior paediatric nurse in Masi Manimba hospital, checks the weight of a malnourished child.

As if there was any doubt that malnutrition was a bad thing, it now comes with a hefty price tag of $3.5 trillion lost globally every year.

That’s roughly the same size as the annual GDP of Germany. Put another way, it averages out to a loss of about $500 for every one of us on the planet every year. And it’s completely avoidable.

The UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) released its annual report on the state of food and agriculture around the world. Malnutrition, ranging from obesity to a lack of vitamins, is a global problem with real costs. The report estimates that 2 billion people are micronutrient deficient and 1.4 billion are obese. However, the solutions are not just at the point where food is consumed.

Most countries see both extremes of malnutrition. Malnutrition is a cause for increasing healthcare costs and also for a loss of work. Sick people can’t work or don’t work at their best. That too bears an economic cost.

“The social and economic costs of malnutrition are unconscionably high,” says FAO Director-General Jose Graziano de Silva in the the report’s introduction. “The challenge for the global community, therefore, is to continue fighting hunger and undernutrition while preventing or reversing the emergence of obesity.” Continue reading