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New Delhi: As the world continues to fight the health crisis levied by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, it has come face-to-face with another emergency- rise in hunger, according to a report released by United Nations on January 20. The report titled ‘Asia and the Pacific Regional Overview of Food Security and Nutrition 2020: Maternal and Child Diets at the Heart of Improving Nutrition’ is the third annual report jointly written by United Nations agencies- the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), the World Food Programme (WFP) and the World Health Organization (WHO). The report talks about the progress made towards the Sustainable Development Goal 2 – Zero Hunger and the World Health Assembly targets 2030 on nutrition in the Asia and Pacific region. According to the report, even after five years of the launch of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), many key indicators related to food and nutrition still demonstrate slow or no progress and the COVID-19 pandemic will further hinder the work being done to achieve the targets by 2030. While the report is mostly based on the data upto the year 2019, before the pandemic struck, it also estimates that an additional 14 crore people were likely fallen into extreme poverty in 2020 due to the impact of virus outbreaks and lockdowns.
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Status Of Food And Nutrition Among Children In India
According to the report, about 53 per cent of children in India are not growing well which means they are either stunted or wasted or overweight or a combination of these. Over 30 per cent of children in India are stunted while 17.3 per cent of children are wasted, which is highest in the Asia-Pacific region. Almost 1.6 per cent of children in India are overweight or are too heavy for their height. Just 42 per cent of children who are 6–23 months of age are fed the required number of times per day in the country which is poor compared to 91 per cent in Vietnam.
According to Basanta Kumar Kar, International Development Professional in Nutrition, in India, broken supply chains and transport problems, especially during pandemic lockdowns, have prevented surplus grain stocks from reaching all those in need. He said that better nutrition intake is critical, especially for young children and mothers, and the most vulnerable community members.
Mr. Kar further said that the report has raised an important issue and has rightly called for mainstreaming nutrition-focused behavior change campaign to help people achieve healthy diets. He said,
With learnings from the pandemic, I would suggest that each country should adopt Nutritional Self- Reliance approach. Greater emphasis is needed on creating an enabling environment for providing a nutritious, safe, affordable and sustainable diet for all. This will include enhancing food, water, sanitation, hygiene, health, and education.
Mr. Kar recommended that the governments in India should focus on promoting locally produced food and strengthen local social security systems.
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Here are some of the other major findings of the report:
– More than 35.1 crore people in the Asia-Pacific region, which is over half of the global total (68.8 crore), are going hungry as the coronavirus pandemic destroys jobs and pushes food prices higher. Over the longer term, food insecurity had been improving before the pandemic hit.
– It is difficult for 190 crore people to afford a healthy diet. This is because the cost of a healthy and nutritious diet in the country is about two to nine times the cost of a basic energy sufficient diet in the Asia-Pacific region. According to the FAO, food prices rose to their highest level in nearly six years in November in this region. Because of the high prices, even though there is sufficient fruits and vegetable production across Asia, yet a majority of people in the region rely on food like rice and flour, that contain very little nutrients, as their main diet.
– At the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, UNICEF estimated a 30 per cent overall reduction in essential nutrition services coverage, reaching 75–100 per cent during the lockdown.
– By the end of 2020, 26.5 crore people in Asia and the Pacific region were estimated to be facing acute food insecurity which means these people ran out of food and had to live without it for days.
– Almost half of all children below five years of age in the Aisa-Pacific region are not growing well. While nearly 7.4 crore children in the region are too short (stunted), 3.1 crore are too thin (wasted) for their age. South Aisa has the largest share in this with nearly 5.6 crore children in South Asia stunted, 2.5 crore are wasted.
– When it comes to Anaemia among children of age below 5 years and women of reproductive age, Southern Asia has the highest prevalence, at 49 per cent, with Pakistan, India, Maldives and Afghanistan having a prevalence of 40 per cent or higher.
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Why Nutrition Is Important In The Light Of COVID-19?
According to the report, nutrition is extremely important for a stronger immune system which helps in fighting diseases like COVID-19. It says,
Undernourished people have weaker immune systems, and may be at a higher risk of severe illness from COVID-19. Poor health, including being overweight and or suffering from non-communicable diseases like diabetes, are strongly linked to more severe COVID-19 outcomes.
The report highlights that because of the increase in inequalities caused by the pandemic and the subsequent lockdowns, vulnerable population including the poor and homeless, people from minority communities, women, children, chronically ill and the senior citizens, are at a higher risk as they lack adequate access to food and nutrition. It says,
Both the COVID-19 and the effect of lockdowns particularly expose the most vulnerable populations, already affected by consequences of inequality, to risks. Good nutrition, individual and community nutrition, and food security are critical for a defense against the virus. It is essential that COVID-19 responses actively include the most vulnerable populations for their protection.
Global Targets Related To Food And Nutrition That The Countries Are Striving To Achieve
Sustainable Development Goals Targets 2030:
• Target 2.1: By 2030, end hunger and ensure access by all people, in particular the poor and people in vulnerable situations, including infants, to safe, nutritious and sufficient food all year round.
• Target 2.2: By 2030, end all forms of malnutrition, including achieving, by 2025, the internationally agreed targets on stunting and wasting in children under five years of age, and address the nutritional needs of adolescent girls, pregnant and lactating women and older persons.
World Health Assembly Targets 2025:
• Stunting: 40 per cent reduction in the number of children under 5 years of age who are stunted
• Wasting: Reduce and maintain childhood wasting to less than 5 per cent
• Breastfeeding: Increase the rate of exclusive breastfeeding in the first 6 months up to at least 50 per cent
• Anaemia: 50 per cent reduction of anaemia in women of reproductive age
• Low birthweight: 30 per cent reduction in low birth weight
• Childhood overweight: No increase in childhood overweight
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NDTV – Dettol Banega Swasth India campaign is an extension of the five-year-old Banega Swachh India initiative helmed by Campaign Ambassador Amitabh Bachchan. It aims to spread awareness about critical health issues facing the country. In wake of the current COVID-19 pandemic, the need for WASH (Water, Sanitation and Hygiene) is reaffirmed as handwashing is one of the ways to prevent Coronavirus infection and other diseases. The campaign highlights the importance of nutrition and healthcare for women and children to prevent maternal and child mortality, fight malnutrition, stunting, wasting, anaemia and disease prevention through vaccines. Importance of programmes like Public Distribution System (PDS), Mid-day Meal Scheme, POSHAN Abhiyan and the role of Aganwadis and ASHA workers are also covered. Only a Swachh or clean India where toilets are used and open defecation free (ODF) status achieved as part of the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan launched by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in 2014, can eradicate diseases like diahorrea and become a Swasth or healthy India. The campaign will continue to cover issues like air pollution, waste management, plastic ban, manual scavenging and sanitation workers and menstrual hygiene.