They waited long enough, and now that their countries are developing this rapidly, there are no more excuses to leave them in hunger, peril health and bearing fragile children. Female malnutrition is still unacceptably prevalent throughout the world. Not only in countries that really are poor, and where there often is not enough food to feed the total population. No, the most malnourished women are not to be found in Sub-Saharan Africa’s countries, but in Asia’s thriving and upcoming economies.
Although the Asia-Pacific region achieved the Millennium Development Goal of halving the proportion of undernourished people between 2000 and 2015, still 490 million people are chronically malnourished in this region, a figure that equals 62 per cent of the world’s undernourished. The figure is especially striking if confronted with the map of Least Developed Countries: while half of Sub-Saharan Africa is still classified as such, most Asian countries graduated from this status long ago, leaving only densely-populated Bangladesh and Myanmar alongside a series of smaller countries such as Cambodia, Lao, Timor-Leste, Bhutan and Nepal in this list. This means that many hungry women live in China, India, Vietnam, Philippines, Indonesia, countries that are global economic players yet have to lift millions out of poverty and will spend decades before really being able to call themselves developed countries.
Women and children generally suffer most from malnutrition. In traditional households throughout many areas of Asia men often get to eat first, leaving less food behind for the rest of the family. Also, the physiological food needs of pregnant women and children are specific, and showcase a basic yet little understood truth of malnutrition: it is often not the consequence of a lack of food, but rather of a lack of good food. Most countries of Southeast Asia are food self-sufficient, and access to food is not a problem for most people: the problem is access to food with enough vitamins, proteins, carbs, in the right proportion to fulfill the needs of women and children.
In Indonesia and India, 40% of the children under the age of 5 suffer as a consequence of malnutrition. They grow up stunted – which is having a lower height than normal for their age because of chronic malnutrition – or wasted – which is having a lower body weight than normal because of acute malnutrition. Their cognitive functions often also remain underdeveloped, becoming a chronic handicap throughout their lives. Malnutrition in children can be the consequence of too little or too bad nutrition in the kid’s early years: prechewed food, lack of calcium, vitamins and proteins, overreliance on rice and other carbs. Or it can be the consequence of maternal malnutrition: an undernourished mother will most probably give birth to an undernourished child, who will not be able to develop all physical and cognitive functions in its first years of life, that are the crucial years for its further development. She will not be able to give proper breastfeeding, the best source of good nutrition for the newborn. An undernourished mother, especially when she is very young, will also be more likely to give birth to a dead baby, or to blood to death while giving birth. Indeed, iron deficit remains a problem for many pregnant women throughout the developing world.
To be a feminist – or even just to be a caring human being – in many parts of the world, means that you make all possible efforts to ensure that women do not risk their lives while giving birth. It means that pregnant women are well fed, and that children do not grow up in hunger, leaving them with a handicap for the rest of their lives. It means that you persuade states to spend money, energy and knowledge in the fight to alleviate malnutrition further. It’s a humanitarian plead, but also an economically rational one: every dollar you spend on preventing malnutrition in a kid, is a dollar you will not have to spend on healthcare later, and a dollar you invest in a smart citizen decades later, that will aid the further growth of your country.
They waited long enough, the women and children that suffer from malnutrition in countries where the most beautiful malls are filled by the upcoming middle classes and where most of the world’s economic growth is made. But they also waited long enough, the many men and the even more women that spend their life putting an end to malnutrition. They waited long enough, the experts of UN agencies FAO, WFP and IFAD, of ACF, Oxfam and Unicef. They waited long enough, the local government experts, the CSR policies of these companies that really want to make a difference, the young volunteers that travel from all around the world to do fieldwork and help reducing the prevalence of malnutrition. They waited long enough, the many local heroes, who work for little recognition and even less money in the countryside, assisting pregnant women and their husbands, giving nutrition counselling, providing the nutrients and often basic yet lifesaving assistance during the delivery. Who spend their days and nights in small barracks, the rooms of local mosques or churches, helping those most in need.
The Sustainable Development Goals aim at ending hunger by 2030. The local heroes cannot achieve this on their own. A hungry mother and a hungry child have no time to wait.
To donate now, visit:
Unicef, Oxfam, Action Contre la Faim, Save The Children
Robert Zielonka (25) is President of Graduates of Democracy. He Tweets at @ZielonkaRobert
Disclaimer: This Post reflects solely the author’s opinion it does not represent the whole platform