Insurgency worsens Child malnutrition in Nigeria

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UNICEF nutrition experts say that Nigeria now has at least35 million severely malnourished children. This is in addition to having the highest mortality rate of children under five years of age.

The crisis is most prevalent in Adamawa, Borno and Yobe – the three states in the country’s northeast worst hit by the Boko Haram insurgency.They call the crisis a national emergency which deserves prompt attention.

“One in six children in northeastern (Borno, Yobe and Adamawa) suffers from severe malnutrition. Indeed, one in every two children(50 percent) is stunted in the region,” Davis Bamidele Omotola, UNICEFnutrition consultant, said at a media dialogue on malnutrition in Yola, the capital town of Adamawa, last week.

These are not just figures, experts warned, saying the statistics mean the affected children are either destined for early death or a life of unfulfilled dreams since they are unable to cope in school or any vocation.

“If Nigeria overcomes the menace of malnutrition, 33 percent of poor people will get out of extreme poverty and give their own children abetter chance of life,” Omotola said. He added that the cycle of generational poverty may also be broken if proper attention is given to nutrition.

Investing in children’s nutrition offers some of the greatest opportunities for social and economic change in Africa. Experts say there is a return on investment of $16 on every dollar spent to raise nutrition level.

Martin Jackson, UNICEF nutrition officer in north eastern Bauchi State, said non-profit organizations have done a lot to save the children but such efforts are not enough.

Jackson called on government and the parliaments at the national and state levels to not just allocate enough funds to address the crisis but to also ensure that the funds are released to execute the plan.

But there is more to the crisis than government committing huge funds to fight malnutrition.

Experts have called for increasing awareness among the public on the consequences of malnutrition and how to prevent it.

This begins with giving better education to children,especially the girl child, and empowering women to be economically viable and self-reliant, according to researchers.

“It is proven, for instance, that educated women tend to practice exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months more than those who are not educated. This is the product of education. Such educated women are also more likely to know what kind of food should be given to their children to prevent malnutrition,” Omotola said.

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