Onyebuchi Ezigbo in Abuja
The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) has alerted the federal government that an estimated 14.7 million children under the age of five are currently under the threat of severe malnutrition.
The Fund said that a good number of these children may become wasted if urgent measures were not taken to arrest the situation.
UNICEF Chief of Nutrition in Nigeria, Nemat Hajeebhoy said the recent massive flooding which led to the destruction of farms and agricultural products across as well as inflation are bound to worsen the nation’s food security and increase malnutrition in 2023.
The nutrition officer, who made this known at a high level roundtable meeting on nutrition in Abuja yesterday organised by the National Council on Nutrition (NCN) and other stakeholders lamented that children are likely to bear the brunt of the impending food crisis.
“Without urgent action, UNICEF estimates that 13 million children will suffer moderat malnutrition and 1.7 million children will suffer severe acute malnutrition this year (2022),” she said.
Hajeebhoy also disclosed that almost 100 children under the age of five die of malnutrition in Nigeria every hour, and 12 million children are living in severe food poverty.
According to her, food prices has risen by 23 percent in the last one year, making it difficult for families to provide nutritious meals for their household. She said 1 in 3 household cannot afford the lowest cost nutritious diet in the country.
She explained that only 34 per cent of households in Nigeria can afford the lowest cost diet estimated at N1,687 household per day.
Hajeebhoy further hinted that Nigeria still ranks number one in Africa and second in the world in terms of number of children malnourished, adding that the situation is threatening the survival, growth and development of children.
“Food poverty, poor diet are damaging children’s health. Food insecurity is a major threat to Nigeria’s future. IF Left untreated, children with Severe Acute Malnutrition (SAM), are nearly 12 times more likely to die than a healthy child,” she further stressed.
The nutrition expert put the economic loss of malnutrition to Nigeria at15 per cent of our GDP. She urged govenrnent and all stakeholders to take urgent action to address the burden.
Data from the World Bank show that Nigeria loses $1.5 billion in GDP annually due to micro nutrient deficiencies. The bank also note that every $1 dollar invested in nutrition can generate $16 in returns, and reducing malnutrition can increase a country’s overall economic productivity by 11 percent as measured by GDO per capita.
Senior Special Assistant to the President on Nutrition Office of the Vice President, Adesanmi Abimbola, who spoke at the meeting, said the health situation requires serious action, noting that malnutrition is responsible for 53 percent deaths in children.
She listed some of the consequences of malnutrition to include: impaired brain development, lower IQ, premature death, weakened immune system, lost productivity and increased healthcare cost, weakened immune system, among several others.
She stated that malnutrition cost the global economy an estimates $3 5 trillion per year or $500 per individual. She also said the health burden is impacting negatively on human capital development, as Nigeria still ranks 152 of 157 countries, indicating a low capital index
On his part, the Executive secretary, Civil Society Scaling up nutrition in Nigeria, (CSUNN), Sunday Okoronkwo lamented that malnutrition is a silent killer, that has killed more people than insurgency in the country
As the country prepares for 2023 general elections, Okoronkwo said that it is imperative that malnutrition/nutrition is in the front burner, and agenda of politicians aspiring public offices.