Oceania's Health ChallengesRecent genetic studies of Pacific Islanders are revealing new insights into Oceania’s health challenges. In turn, these insights may drive sustainable solutions that improve community health and save lives.

Convenience-food diets, obesity, lack of resources and the health challenges that result from these conditions are escalating in many island nations in the Pacific. Worse, the resulting non-communicable diseases (NCDs) are leading to an increase in preventable deaths. Activists from many nations are working to better protect many Pacific Island populations from Oceania’s health challenges.

Oceania

Oceania is a group of countries and territories that share a border with the Pacific Ocean. These 14 countries and territories are diverse culturally, economically, geographically and demographically. Oceania includes the large and wealthy countries of Australia and New Zealand and smaller and less affluent countries including Figi, Tonga and Palau.

Vulnerability

Indigenous people in Oceania are more genetically prone to gut issues and certain NCDs that evolved during colonization. While traditionally, Oceania diets were low-energy-density, the introduction of processed foods and more modern snacks brought obesity and linking issues. Before colonization, there was little to no obesity in the Pacific Islands. According to a 2019 study published in Frontiers in Immunology, “During the period of nutritional transition, the people came to consume energy-dense foods imported from Australia and New Zealand.”

The study reports that certain health conditions disproportionately affect specific indigenous populations including the Polynesians in Hawaii, the Maoris in New Zealand, and the Aboriginal and Torres Straits Islanders in Australia compared to non-indigenous people in the same places.  Mortality rates, NCDs and fertility decline are all issues that disproportionately affect these populations. Studying Pacific Islanders’ health data more closely, as this study did, may lead to sustainable solutions.

Environmental factors such as urbanization, sanitation and pathogen exposure also have the potential to increase disease susceptibility. Genetic vulnerability in the form of microbiome genetic mutations and immune function justifies population-specific medical studies and consideration in regards to nutrition. Accessibility and food insecurity have also driven people to foods that are low in nutrition.

Solutions

There are several specific solutions to combat the sharp rise in NCDs in the Pacific Islands. One strategy is better health monitoring. Current medical data surrounding nutrition is almost nonexistent and therefore Pacific Islander nutrition lacks proper evaluation. Increasing data and enhancing research in this area can better inform people about their eating habits.

The George Institute for Global Health, Fiji National University, Sydney University and Deakin University have created the Global Alliance for Chronic Diseases project. This effort hopes to collect data on preventable deaths and possible food policy initiatives for the future. The researchers already found that decreasing salt intake by one gram a day for a year would prevent heart attacks and strokes and save 131 lives a year.

A second strategy is creating a sustainable interest and consumer demand for fresh and healthy foods.  Since COVID-19, Fiji’s Ministry of Agriculture has distributed seeds for people to grow their own food at home. Additional countries could benefit from a program like this as well.

Other strategies include projects and policies that focus on building a stronger market for healthy foods. Finally, the study suggests applying a gender lens to improve Oceania’s health challenges.  While more women are joining the workforce, they continue to play the primary role in caring for and feeding their families.  They do not have the time to prepare complicated meals so they are turning to convenience foods.

World Bank Showcases Oceania Women Leaders

The 2019 genetic study, others like it and the projects mentioned above are setting a trend of focus on the nutritional health of Pacific Islanders. Sustainable change and progress are occurring throughout Oceania. This progress prompted the World Bank to showcase some inspiring women who are starting to implement solutions to Oceania’s health challenges. In Samoa, Lenara Tupa’i-Fui is the assistant CEO of Health Information Technology and Communications at the Somoa Ministry of Health. She is helping lead the Samoan eHealth system that will better track medical records and provide accessible health monitoring and data. As program director of the Partnership of Human Development in Timor-Leste, Armandian Gusmão Amaral advocates for better health care, especially for women and children. She also focuses on mentoring women to pursue careers in the medical profession.

Looking Ahead

Advocating for better data tracking and health communication, increasing the understanding of and demand for healthy foods and applying a gender lens to improving eating habits are all steps that are helping the vulnerable in Oceania take action on their health.

– Karen Krosky
Photo: Flickr

Malnutrition in Latvia
According to the World Bank, in 2018, the poverty rate in Latvia stood at almost 23%. Malnutrition in Latvia is a consequence of high poverty rates and economic instability. Latvia’s government is taking steps to prevent the issue from becoming more severe.

5 Facts About Malnutrition in Latvia

  1. Anemia is prevalent among Latvian women. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), “iron deficiency is the most common form of micronutrient malnutrition globally.” This typically leads to anemia, a “condition in which [one] lack[s] enough healthy red blood cells to carry adequate oxygen to [one’s] body tissues,” which can lead to fatigue, heart problems and an increased risk of death. World Bank data from 2019 finds that in Latvia specifically, slightly more than one-fifth of non-pregnant females 15-49 suffered from anemia.
  2. Overweight and obesity impact Latvian people. Overweight and obesity are forms of malnutrition that increase the risk of heart disease, diabetes, strokes and many other illnesses. Statistics show that 58% of the total Latvian population was overweight in 2014 and 24% suffered from obesity. The female rate of obesity was higher than men at 25% and 22% respectively. Because “the prevalence of obesity contributes to an increase in health care expenditure,” as with other forms of malnutrition, the economic impact on a nation is clear.
  3. About 5,000 Latvian infants were below the minimum weight standard in 2012. A low-weight infant increases the risk of health issues significantly. Some issues might include trouble breathing, jaundice and infections. When a woman does not gain enough weight during pregnancy or suffers malnutrition, this increases the chance of an underweight newborn baby, endangering the baby’s life. Additionally, underweight babies are at risk of developing other illnesses later in life, such as high blood pressure, diabetes and intellectual or developmental disabilities.
  4. Malnutrition contributes to child mortality. As of 2013, the mortality rate for Latvian children younger than 5 stood at 8.4%. According to WHO, “around 45% of deaths among children under 5 years of age are linked to undernutrition.” These circumstances are especially prevalent in lower-income countries such as Latvia.
  5. Well-balanced diets are lacking in Latvia. A 2021 press release by the Central Statistics Bureau of Latvia states that less than 40% of the population (15 and older) consume fruit or vegetables “once a day or more often.” This statistic indicates that many Latvians do not consume nutritious, well-balanced diets essential for preventing malnutrition. The survey data by the Central Statistics Bureau of Latvia also finds that poverty plays a role in these patterns. Households with higher levels of income, education and employment consumed more fruits and vegetables daily in comparison to those with lower socioeconomic statuses.

Government Solutions

Because adequate nutrition is essential for a high quality of life, it is key to implement strategies to improve malnutrition in Latvia. To address issues of malnutrition in schools, in 2006, Latvia banned schools from selling unhealthy foods and drinks such as sodas. Latvia has also set guiding nutritional standards for meals provided at education facilities and health care facilities. The nation has also introduced a “tax on sugar-sweetened beverages and a reduced value-added tax rate for fresh vegetables, fruit and berries.”

Unfortunately, socioeconomic status continues to determine the types of foods Latvian households purchase. Because those living in poverty are less likely to purchase fruits and vegetables, they are most likely to suffer from malnutrition. With this in mind, addressing the poverty rate in the nation will likely lead to a reduction in malnutrition in Latvia as healthy foods become more accessible to people of all income levels.

– Kler Teran
Photo: Flickr

Child Malnutrition in Chad
Chad, a country located in Central Africa, faces one of the highest levels of child malnutrition worldwide. A meta-analysis of child malnutrition in sub-Saharan Africa from 2006 to 2016 found that 39.9% of children in Chad suffered from stunting and 28.8% were underweight. Extreme weather events and conflict in the country exacerbate food insecurity, making it more difficult for many families to provide adequate, nutritious diets for their children. To help improve children’s health and reduce food insecurity, four recent initiatives are tackling child malnutrition in Chad.

Scaling Up Nutrition

Scaling Up Nutrition (SUN) is an organization that collaborates with low- and middle-income countries’ governments to organize malnutrition prevention efforts. In 2017, SUN developed partnerships with five civil society organizations in Chad focused on improving nutrition. SUN has also established six local Civil Society Alliance offices across different provinces of the country. With SUN’s support, these organizations adopted nutrition as an integral part of their development plans. SUN has also trained and mobilized 35 radio presenters and journalists for nutrition communication, who continue to help raise awareness on malnutrition across the country.

Collaboration with UNICEF and the UK

Through its Department for International Development, the U.K. committed £4 million to a collaboration with UNICEF to reduce acute malnutrition in Chad in 2018 and 2019. Using this grant, UNICEF provided therapeutic milk, Ready-to-Use Therapeutic Food and essential drugs to 58,670 children across 20 provinces nationwide.

UNICEF also used the DFID grant to develop more sanitary and hygienic health centers, improving 30 facilities across the country. This development benefited an estimated 40,000 mothers and caregivers of children suffering from acute malnutrition.

Zafaye West Health Center

A nutrition project that UNICEF and the U.K.’s Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office sponsored supports the Zafaye West Health Center. The project selected N’Djamena, where the health center is located, as a priority province in Chad for nutrition aid because a 2019 survey detected a high prevalence of acute malnutrition in the area.

Community volunteers from the center travel door-to-door to reach out to mothers, encouraging them to visit the health center to check up on their children’s health and engage in educational campaigns. The campaigns educate mothers on the importance of balanced diets for their children and teach them nutrient-dense, affordable recipes to prepare. The nutrition project has saved 43,000 children, located within the six target provinces it serves, from acute malnutrition as of June 2021.

The World Food Programme (WFP)

The World Food Programme is an organization that provides food assistance across more than 80 countries worldwide. WFP helps provide nutritious meals to 120,000 school children in the Sahel, the region of Africa where Chad is located. The organization also feeds 15,000 children in the Lake Chad region through an emergency school meal program.

In addition, WFP helps prevent child malnutrition in Chad among 6-month-olds to 2-year-olds by providing cash-based nutrition support to their families. This support provides families with more stable access to nutrient-dense foods.

Although many children in Chad currently face malnutrition, these four initiatives are making progress in eradicating this issue. With this support, child malnutrition in Chad may decline in the years to come.

– Aimée Eicher
Photo: Flickr

Hunger-Fighting Initiatives in India
India ranks 101st out of 116 countries on the 2021 Global Hunger Index rankings, with a score of 27.5, which GHI considers “serious.” Currently, there are many hunger-fighting initiatives in India. The five government implemented hunger-fighting initiatives in India include the National Nutrition Mission (NNM), National Food Security Mission, Zero Hunger Programme, Eat Right India Movement and efforts toward food fortification.

National Nutrition Mission

India’s Prime Minister, Shri Narendra Modi, launched the National Nutrition Mission (NNM) or the POSHAN Abhiyaan, on International Women’s Day 2018. NNM targets children, pregnant women and lactating mothers, aiming to reduce stunting, undernutrition, anemia and low birth weight babies. It uses Lives Saved Tool, also known as LiST, to gather results on increased interventions of maternal, newborn and child health, and nutrition.

National Food Security Mission

In 2007, the National Development Council launched the National Food Security Mission. By the end of the 11th Five Year Plan (2011 – 2012), production of rice had successfully increased to the projected “10 million tons, wheat to 8 million tons and pulses to 2 million tons.” The 12th Five Year Plan was even more successful, with a target of 25 million tons of food grain from 2017 to 2020.

The National Food Security Mission implemented eight strategies to accomplish its objectives. Those strategies are to:

  • Place focus on districts with low production and significant potential
  • Establish cropping system-centric inventions
  • Inherit “agro-climatic zone wise planning and cluster approach for crop productivity enhancement”
  • Increase focus on annual crop (pulses) production and grow them with diverse crops
  • “Promote and extend improved technologies i.e., seed, integrated nutrient management (INM), integrated pest management (IPM), input use efficiency and resource conservation technologies along with the capacity building of the farmers/extension functionaries”
  • “Closely monitor the flow of funds to ensure timely reach of interventions to the target beneficiaries”
  •  Combine multiple interventions and the goals of each district and its plans
  • “Implement agencies for assessing the impact of the interventions for a result-oriented approach”

Zero Hunger Programme

The Zero Hunger Programme in India began in 2017 to improve agriculture, health and nutrition. The Indian Council of Agricultural Research, the Indian Council of Medical Research, the M.S. Swaminathan Research Foundation and the Biotechnology Industry Research Assistance Council (BIRAC) created it. The program focuses on developing farm equipment, revamping the farming system, setting up genetic gardens for biofortified plants and beginning zero hunger training. In India, most farmers do not have an adequate amount of land to support their families plus the growing population. Without proper storage available, transportation and marketing places, most food goes to waste. The Zero Hunger Programme aims to:

  • Decrease child stunting for children 2 years and younger
  • Ensure access to food all year round
  • Create stable food systems
  • Increase small farmer productivity and income
  • Eliminate food waste

Eat Right India Movement

The Food Safety and Standards Authority of India started the Eat Right India movement to ensure that the Indian population has access to food that is healthy and safe. The program stands on the foundation of regulatory capacity building, collaborative and empowerment approach.

Overall, the purpose of the Eat Right India Movement is to encourage communities to eat healthy, safe and sustainably. It aims to help all age groups since diet-related illnesses affect everyone if their eating habits are poor. With this common ground, the movement is banding with restaurants, agriculture, food producers, ministries and professional cooks to ensure change.

Food Fortification

Eating low-quality food can cause malnourishment and anemia. Both are present in children and women of the Indian community. In efforts to lower the extent of malnutrition and anemia, food fortification has been a common practice in India since the 1950s. Food fortification is a process of nutrient supplementation chemically, biologically or physically. Fortified food can include rice, wheat flour, edible oil, salt and milk.

Unfortunately, low-income women and children never consume 40%-60% of fortified food. This is due to some states’ failure to purchase fortified food, information disclosure in public supply chains and a shortage of distribution channels in rural areas.

All five hunger-fighting initiatives in India are working towards the goal of combating hunger. Though some have met their targets, the fight is still ongoing. Incorporating more nutrients in daily diets could save many from hunger and diseases. With that, the government recognizes the severities and has established initiatives to address the problem.

– Destiny Jackson
Photo: Flickr

Food insecurity rates in Afghanistan
Afghanistan has experienced many crises in recent decades, with several domestic and international conflicts transpiring within the nation’s borders. Afghanistan’s economic crisis as well as conflicts and droughts aggravate rates of food insecurity in Afghanistan. With the recent Taliban takeover in August 2021, the country is seeing a collapse in food security. On October 25, 2021, the World Food Programme (WFP) issued a warning that millions of Afghans may face starvation during Afghanistan’s winter unless the world responds with urgent intervention. Understanding the challenges that Afghanistan and its people face, many international organizations are providing both donations and aid to alleviate food insecurity in the nation.

The Food Insecurity Situation in Afghanistan

According to the WFP in October 2021, more than 50% of Afghans, approximately 22.8 million citizens, are enduring severe food insecurity. Furthermore,  about 3.2 million Afghan children younger than 5 years old are at risk of acute malnutrition. In a WFP news release, the executive director of the WFP, David Beasley, says, “Afghanistan is now among the world’s worst humanitarian crises, if not the worst.”

The full Taliban takeover that came to fruition in August 2021 debilitated an “already fragile economy heavily dependant on foreign aid.” In an effort to cut off support to the Taliban, many nations chose to suspend aid to Afghanistan and the World Bank and International Monetary Fund (IMF) chose to halt payments to Afghanistan. For a country with about 40% of its GDP stemming from international support, vulnerable Afghans are hit heavily with the impacts of aid suspensions as food insecurity rates in Afghanistan continue to rise.

In September 2021, the U.N. warned that just 5% of Afghan families have sufficient daily food supplies, with essential ingredients like cooking oil and wheat drastically rising in prices. In October 2021, the WFP warned that “one million children were at risk of dying from severe acute malnutrition without immediate life-saving treatment.” WFP also predicted that the looming winter would further isolate Afghans depending on humanitarian assistance to survive. With overall food insecurity rates skyrocketing, urban residents are suffering from food insecurity at similar rates to rural communities. The WFP stresses the importance of continuing international aid to Afghanistan so that citizens can survive the coming months.

The Aid Dilemma for Global Economic Powers

“If we do nothing, Afghanistan drifts into state collapse. The economic chokehold is squeezing the air out of the economy,” said Graeme Smith, a consultant for the International Crisis Group (ICG), in an interview with the Christian Science Monitor on November 4, 2021.

The danger of a total state collapse is so concerning that European donors “are trying to expand stopgap emergency measures to find creative ways to alleviate the financial challenge faced by the central Taliban government in Kabul.”

The challenges of providing support remain. The U.N. estimates that as much as 97% of the country’s population could live in poverty by 2022 “in a worst-case scenario.” However, recognizing the severe consequences of aid suspensions, in October 2021, “The Group of 20 major economies” pledged to provide humanitarian aid to Afghanistan. As a global powerhouse, the United States also announced its intention of providing aid to Afghan citizens as the harsh winter season starts. However, these countries are skeptical about providing aid directly to the Taliban government, therefore, aid will likely come through international agencies.

Aid to Afghanistan

Recognizing the need for aid, international organizations worked tirelessly to deliver food, blankets and monetary assistance “to hundreds of displaced families in Kabul” in October 2021. Humanitarian assistance from different global agencies found a way into Afghanistan. Even though the distribution of aid only reached 324 families, a very small percentage of the total needs of the nation, this aid gives hope to many Afghans who are experiencing severe food shortages.

Rising food insecurity rates in Afghanistan highlight the desperate need for aid. With many donors creatively developing ways to help the Afghan people, during a time of crisis, the country is hopeful for a brighter future.

– Tri Truong
Photo: Max Pixel

Guinea-Bissau
Guinea
-Bissau, a West African country bordering the Atlantic Ocean, is known for cashew nut farming, which amounts to “90% of the country’s exports,” serving as “a main source of income for an estimated two-thirds of the country’s households.” However, almost 70% of the country’s population lives in poverty.  Among the issues of poverty that plague Guinea-Bissau is food insecurity, low educational attainment and inadequate healthcare. The World Food Programme (WFP), in particular, supports Guinea-Bissau by tackling several issues through humanitarian aid and support.

Food Insecurity and Education

In Guinea-Bissau specifically, the WFP focuses its efforts on supplying “nutritional support” to roughly 96,000 citizens. Data indicates that about a quarter of Guinea-Bissau’s population endures chronic malnutrition. Therefore, in specific, the WFP’s nutrition programs work on combating malnutrition among children younger than 5 as well as “pregnant and nursing women.”

On top of food and nutrition support, the WFP also focuses on education in Guinea-Bissau. In 2014, the overall literacy rates of young citizens aged 15-24 in Guinea-Bissau stood at just 60%. A specific strategy the WFP employs to tackle both food insecurity and low educational attainment rates are supplying meals to more than 173,000 school students to encourage students to attend school. Furthermore, “take-home food rations for female students” aim to “encourage girls to attend and remain in school” since rates of school completion for girls are disproportionately low. The hope is for the WFP to assist the Guinean government in taking over this school feeding program.

In order to strengthen the long-term food security of Guinea-Bissau, the WFP is helping rural people gain access to “social services and markets.” In addition, on June 24, 2021, the WFP provided “agricultural tools and seeds” to about 120 female farmers for the purpose of growing food in their local communities. For short-term food security, the WFP delivered 80 million tons of rice across villages in Guinea-Bissau.

COVID-19 in Guinea Bissau

The WFP is also assisting Guinea-Bissau to better manage the COVID-19 crisis within the country. By October 1, 2021, Guinea-Bissau reported more than 6,000 COVID-19 cases and 140 deaths. As a low-income country with a GDP per capita of just $727, the nation does not have adequate funding or resources for resilient and effective healthcare facilities as well as a strong and efficient COVID-19 response.

The WFP supports Guinea-Bissau with supply chain management of essential COVID-19 resources such as “personal protective equipment, medical equipment, medicines and hospital lab supplies” and delivers these resources to health facilities across the country.

Looking Ahead

Guinea-Bissau faces significant challenges regarding poverty, food insecurity education and healthcare, among other issues. Through how WFP continuously supports Guinea-Bissau, especially amid the COVID-19 pandemic, conditions in the country can improve. With both long-term and short-term humanitarian efforts, hope exists for the people of Guinea-Bissau to rise out of poverty as resilient, empowered and productive individuals.

– Makena Roberts
Photo: Flickr

<span class="imagecredit">On April 12, 2013, the World Bank approved funding for the National Horticulture and Livestock Productivity Project (NHLP) in Afghanistan. Under this governmental program, greenhouses are distributed to families across Afghanistan’s provinces. More than 300 Afghan women in the province of Kapisa alone are able to grow food year-round for their families with some women even becoming the sole breadwinners of their family due to farming made possible through the NHLP’s distributed greenhouses. The United Nations implemented the Community-Based Agriculture and Rural Development project (CBARD) in Afghanistan in 2018, a program that involves similar creations of greenhouses in Afghanistan. CBARD has led to the construction of 70 greenhouses in the Ghormach district alone. As the success of micro and commercial greenhouse distribution through both the World Bank and U.N.-initiated projects has grown, the importance of long-term and community-based anti-poverty solutions has become clear internationally.

Greenhouse Distribution

The NHLP has reached 291 districts across all 34 provinces in Afghanistan, covering more than 500,000 citizens, half of whom are women. Each greenhouse costs 25,000 afghani (or around $320) to build, with recipients selected “based on financial need and access to at least 250 square meters of land.” After distributing these greenhouses, the NHLP also provides classes for participants on how to cultivate vegetables and apply fertilizer made from organic waste.

With the goal of tailoring the CBARD project to Afghanistan’s agriculture, the U.N. aims to benefit an estimated 46,000 households across the nation. As part of this general agricultural program, greenhouses are implemented as “key infrastructure” across the region. The U.N. explains that due to cultural and security concerns throughout many provinces, it has also focused on the implementation of micro greenhouses so that women can grow crops inside their homes. With the CBARD program currently active in the Badghis, Farah and Nangarhar provinces, the program has built hundreds of micro and commercial greenhouses for farmers.

The Need for Year-Round Food

Greenhouses in Afghanistan have provided access to produce during winter months while also providing a general improvement in food quality. This is especially beneficial for children and pregnant women who are vulnerable to malnutrition. Saima Sahar Saeedi, NHLP social affairs officer, explains to the World Bank that these greenhouses aim to reduce childhood malnutrition with children able to “eat the vegetables grown in their own family greenhouses.”

Due to Kapisa province’s especially cold winter climate, many families are unable to grow produce such as wheat, potatoes and vegetables throughout the year without the help of greenhouses and are unable to afford produce at a local bazaar. Some greenhouses in Afghanistan even help families sell crops. One recipient, Roh Afza, tells the World Bank that the money she made from selling her greenhouse produce is used to buy “clothes, school uniforms, notebooks and books for [her] children.”

The U.N.’s CBARD program has focused on the Badghis region specifically, where citizens depend on agriculture as their primary occupation. With an increase of droughts, however, much of the population has turned to poppy cultivation, which requires less water than other crops. Poppy cultivation not only requires an entire family to work but results in minimal profits and reduces the fertility of the soil. The CBARD program aims to reduce the dependence on poppy cultivation in the region by implementing greenhouses for the production of crops such as cucumbers, tomatoes, eggplants and peppers.

The Global Success of Greenhouses

The success of both the U.N.’s CBARD program and the World Bank’s NHLP initiative include achievements in combating malnutrition, poverty and food insecurity through both micro and commercial greenhouses. Greenhouses have also furthered agricultural progress and livelihoods in rural Jamaica as well as Japan, China, South Korea and Taiwan. The U.N. and World Bank’s greenhouse implementation programs create long-term, community-based solutions in combating food insecurity, poverty and malnutrition.

– Lillian Ellis
Photo: Wikimedia Commons

The United Arab EmiratesThe United Arab Emirates (UAE) is leading the fight against malnutrition. Malnutrition refers to imbalances, deficiencies or excesses in a person’s ingestion of nutrients and all-around intake of energy. It can result in several problems, ranging from undernutrition to obesity. As a result, the issues caused by malnutrition can lead to diet-related diseases such as cardiovascular diseases, various forms of cancer and strokes.

Malnutrition is an issue that affects every country in the world in one form or another. Children are especially at risk, with 45% of deaths among children younger than the age of 5 linked to malnutrition. Malnutrition affects 49 million children around the globe.

COVID-19 caused an upset in the health systems of numerous countries, which worsened the issue noticeably.  By 2022, experts expect an additional 2.6 million children to suffer from chronic malnutrition. There are several programs across many nations working to combat the issue globally. Likewise, the United Arab Emirates built one of the most notable reputations for combating hunger and malnutrition.

Efforts by the United Arab Emirates

The United Arab Emirates has previous endeavors fighting against malnutrition. For example, the Crown Prince of Dubai Mohammed Bin Rashid’s “100 Million Meals” food campaign successfully delivered more than 216 million meals to the hungry. The nation refuses to sit still on the issue.

The United Arab Emirates joined the list Reaching the Last Mile. Reaching the Last Mile is a global health fund that works to eradicate diseases affecting lower-income and more marginalized communities. Reaching the Last Mile, which was launched by the Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi, Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, partnered with the U.N. Foundation alongside Ecobank, OnlyOne, ONOMO Hotels and Koosmik to help fund UNITLIFE.

UNITLIFE and the UAE

UNICEF claims that the annual global cost of malnutrition is $3.5 trillion. Reducing global malnutrition by a third could reap economic benefits totaling roughly $417 billion. Director of the Secretariat at UNITLIFE, Assia Sidibe, tells CNBC Africa “Malnutrition really leads to huge economic burden.” Sidibe also goes on to cite how malnourished children will earn 22% less in their adult lives than their non-malnourished counterparts.  The healthcare costs set in motion by malnourishment have a significant financial impact as well.

UNITLIFE aims to combat chronic malnutrition by investing in nutritious food systems, female empowerment and climate-smart agriculture. UNITLIFE largely obtains funds through micro-donations, public-private partnerships and market-based transactions.  These funds accompany official development assistance and domestic resources already at the organization’s disposal.

On top of partnering with UNITLIFE, Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan donated $2.5 million to the organization shortly after UNITLIFE’s creation. This was a gesture that is representative of the United Arab Emirates’ commitment to tackling the issue of malnutrition.

The United Arab Emirates demonstrated, alongside UNITLIFE’s other partners, a commitment to end chronic childhood malnutrition. This commitment serves as an example of philanthropic humanitarianism. The action taken by the United Arab Emirates and others to fund UNITLIFE may help to spell an end to chronic childhood malnutrition worldwide.

– Brendan Jacobs
Photo: Flickr

Malnutrition in UzbekistanOn July 1, 2021, USAID successfully delivered 131 tons of food to Tashkent, the capital of Uzbekistan, to combat malnutrition in Uzbekistan. The almost $400,000 humanitarian aid package provides a “nutritious vegetable and legume mix” to health and social care facilities as well as disadvantaged Uzbek households. The aid is yet another act showing the U.S. commitment to long-term investment in health and nutrition in Uzbekistan.

Food Security and Uzbekistan’s Agri-Food Sector

Since it gained independence in 1991, Uzbekistan has wisely prioritized self-sufficiency in its approach to food security. Although the country has produced sufficient food to cover its population in the past, “food security also encompasses affordable food and a diverse diet that includes essential nutrients.” According to the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI), malnutrition in Uzbekistan lingers because the country lacks adequate standards of balanced and nutritious diets and affordable food options are rare.

The World Bank states that the development of Uzbekistan’s agri-food sector is critical to strengthening food security and reducing poverty in the country. Economically, the agriculture division alone contributes 28% of Uzbekistan’s GDP and is responsible for employing more workers than any other sector. About 27% of the entire workforce, or more than 3.65 million people, work in the agricultural field.

In 2019, almost 10% of the country lived below the poverty line, surviving on less than $3.2 per day. This equates to about 3.2 million people, 80% of which lived in rural regions “with livelihoods that depend largely on agriculture.” For these reasons, USAID seeks to develop and diversify the agri-food sector by introducing new technologies and techniques to local farmers. In the past, Uzbek farmers could not access contemporary data on markets, weather, technologies and farming practices. By supplying almost 100,000 hours of agricultural training “and working with 64 new consulting service providers,” USAID has played a role in a 523% “cumulative increase in farm yields,” raising the income of Uzbek farmers by 107%.

USAID’s Impact on Uzbek Food Security

In the last decade, USAID’s International Food Relief Partnership program has supplied 1,300 tons of food assistance to Uzbekistan, amounting to more than $3.5 million in aid. The recent delivery will target more than “30,000 of the most vulnerable citizens” who are most at risk of food insecurity and malnutrition. The aid will cover 130 health and social centers, including mental institutions and orphanages.

USAID Uzbekistan’s mission director, Mikaela Meredith, states, “This program demonstrates the ongoing strong partnership between Uzbekistan and the United States of America to improve nutrition and ensure that the most vulnerable have adequate, safe and nutritious food to support a healthy and productive life.”

The Future of Uzbekistan’s Food Security

Uzbekistan is currently on course to meet the global nutrition targets of reducing child stunting by 40% by 2025. In terms of stunting in children younger than 5, the rate has reduced from 25% in 2002 to 10.8% in 2017. However, not enough data is available to determine how close Uzbekistan is to achieving its 2025 target for stunting. Nonetheless, the country has made progress over the years. The continued assistance from USAID and other international organizations will help develop the agricultural sector, increase food security and combat malnutrition in Uzbekistan.

Gene Kang
Photo: Flickr

Food insecurity crisis in SomaliaSomalia’s climate consists of sporadic periods of intense rainfall between long periods of drought. So far in 2021, a devastating mix of severe droughts, intense floods and locust infestations in Somalia have devastated crop production and livestock herds, leading to a hunger crisis. The effects of the COVID-19 pandemic further exacerbated the previously high rates of poverty in the country and have contributed to the food insecurity crisis in Somalia. USAID is aiming to combat the hunger crisis in Somalia by providing food assistance while also targeting assistance efforts to limit malnutrition among children and pregnant women.

Causes of the Food Insecurity Crisis in Somalia

Typically, heavy rains strike Somalia between April and June and again between October and December. During the two rainy seasons, extreme rainfall and flooding regularly displace Somalis across the country. However, in 2021, the rainy season ended in May instead of June. This early end caused intense droughts in Somalia.

Rainfall in some areas of Somalia has amounted to only half of the year-to-date average. As a result, deficit farmers in the south and northwest of Somalia have not been able to access water supplies adequate to plant Somalia’s staple crops. Moreover, pastoral households’ inadequate access to water has decreased the size and productivity of livestock herds. The subsequent meat, milk and crop shortage might surge food prices in Somalia.

The Famine Early Warning Systems Network projected that the Somali yield of cereal crops in 2021 will be up to 40% less than the yearly average. The drought has already decreased the food and water intake for farmers and pastoralists across Somalia, and low crop and livestock yields in the late summer harvest will lead to lower incomes for farmers and pastoralists. This will limit the purchasing power of Somalis employed in the agriculture sector. Altogether, the drought and subsequent low-yield harvests could extend the risk of a food insecurity crisis in Somalia past the summer.

The State of the Somali Food Insecurity Crisis

The Integrated Food Security Phase Classification (IPC) scale is a system that governments, non-governmental organizations and the U.N. uses to analyze the severity of food insecurity situations. The IPC scale ranges from minimal (IPC Phase 1) to famine (IPC Phase 5). By the middle of 2021, the IPC expects 2.7 million Somalis to encounter at least the crisis level of food insecurity (IPC Phase 3). Specifically, the analysis expects 2.25 million Somalis to be at the crisis level of food insecurity while another 400,100 will be at the emergency level of food insecurity (IPC Phase 4).

COVID-19 in Somalia

While the COVAX initiative and the Somali Federal Government have started the vaccination campaign against COVID-19 in Somalia, the virus continues to devastate the fragile economy. Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, the poverty rate (percent of the population below $1.90/day, 2011 PPP) in Somalia was at 69%. The poverty rate among Somalis in rural areas was at 72%.

Further, the worldwide COVID-19 induced lockdowns have limited employment opportunities for Somalis working in foreign countries. Consequently, Somalis working internationally are not able to send much money back to their families in Somalia, which heavily supports consumption in the country. Moreover, Somali businesses have reduced their full-time staff by an average of 31% since the pandemic first struck Somalia.

Lastly, a global reduction in demand for Somali livestock has decreased Somali livestock exports by 50% since the beginning of the pandemic, which further weakens the income of already impoverished Somali pastoralists. Thus, the global economic downturn resulting from COVID-19 threatens to intensify the food insecurity crisis in Somalia.

US Aid to Somalia

On June 24, 2021, the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) announced a pledge of $20 million in assistance to Somalia. USAID’s aid pledge to Somalia was part of a larger USAID plan to provide a total of $97 million to African countries to combat the health and socioeconomic ramifications of the pandemic. The U.S. aid plan will focus on tackling the food insecurity crisis in Somalia and will supply the country with staple crops like sorghum and yellow split peas. The funding also aims to limit the malnutrition of children and pregnant women.

The aid package builds on a U.S. commitment of $14.7 million in June 2021 to provide drinking water, fight malnutrition and support victims of gender-based violence.

While Somalia’s struggle with poverty and malnutrition is a longstanding and complicated issue, assistance from the U.S. and the rest of the global community could prevent a famine in the short term and boost the country’s economic development in the long term.

– Zachary Fesen
Photo: Flickr