Stunting is a key factor holding back progress and well-being of children. Nepal faces a significant challenge with tens of thousands of children under five who are stunted, says a multi-sectoral report released by various organizations.
According to the report, about 41 per cent of Nepali children under five are suffering from stunting, a measure of chronic under nutrition. The consequences of acute malnutrition are profound, irreversible and lifelong. It heightens children’s risk of death and damages the brain, ultimately impacting the physical development and the general health and well-being of a nation. It is estimated that it can impact as much as 10 per cent of lifetime earning among the affected and a reduction of up to 3 per cent of the country’s GDP.
As Nepal’s situation is alarming, prime minister Baburam Bhattarai launched the Multi Sector Nutrition Plan (2013–2017) formulated by National Planning Commission (NPC) as it was regarded as a milestone in Nepal's nutrition sector.
“We have envisioned achieving nutritional well-being of all people in Nepal to maintain a healthy life to contribute in the socio-economic development of the country,” Prime Minister Bhattarai said. “Our mission is to accelerate the reduction in malnutrition, enhance our children’s brain development and growth.”
Supporting the highly anticipated plan, Hanaa Singer, UNICEF Nepal Country Representative, said, “Malnutrition has been a silent emergency in this country; insidious and pervasive, affecting the health, intellectual capacity and productivity of Nepalis, from generation to generation. What has impressed us most is the high level leadership and commitment to uplift the profile of nutrition in the national development agenda and to make nutrition cross the traditional boundaries that it had been relegated to, and making it a matter of concern to other sectors like education, sanitation, agriculture and finance too.”
The Multi Sector Nutrition Plan focuses its intervention during the first one thousand days of life. The period from conception to a child’s second birthday is critical when young children lose their chance to thrive cognitively and physically if poorly nourished. The aim of the plan is to reduce chronic malnutrition by one third over the next 5 years and within 10 years, bring it down to the level that it no longer hampers the human development capital.
UNICEF has provided the lead technical support to the NPC, with funding from the European Union (EU) as part of the regional Maternal and Young Child Nutrition Security in Asia (MYCNSIA) project. Three days earlier, on 17th September, representatives of seven ministries, the NPC and various national and international development partners had signed on a Declaration of Commitment to accelerate reduction of chronic malnutrition in women and children in Nepal.
Nepal has been recognized internationally for this remarkable progress and commitment to accelerate reduction of chronic malnutrition in women and children by the UN effort on Scaling Up Nutrition (SUN) Movement, and is considered as one of 30 SUN countries. REACH will support the NPC to strengthen multi-sector nutrition coordination, enhance multi-sector nutrition capacity and monitoring systems, and contribute support to modeling of MSNP in selected districts.
Stunting generally occurs before the age of two and the effects are largely irreversible.
Nepal intensified campaigns to raise awareness of good feeding practices among the rural poor and prevent stunting by distributing ready-to-use therapeutic food (RUTF), but public perceptions of feeding undermine the efforts.
The 2012 State of the World’s Children report said more than one third of children under five in Asia are stunted – too short for their age- while 27 percent weigh too little for their age, and 13 percent are wasted, meaning the child’s weight is too low for its height as a result of acute malnutrition.
Some 59 percent of all Afghan children under five had moderate to severe stunting, while the figure for Timor Leste was 58 percent, the report said.
The number of stunted children in South Asia – India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal, Sri Lanka and Afghanistan – decreased by only 10 percent between 1990 and 2010.