The world is facing a nutrition crisis. Despite significant progress in reducing hunger over the past two decades, 795 million people around the world still go to bed hungry every night, and more than 2 billion wake up deficient in crucial vitamins and minerals. In 2015, 156 million children under the age of five years were stunted (too short for their age — a sign of chronic malnutrition) and 50 million were wasted (much too thin for their height — a sign of acute malnutrition). Globally, 1 in 3 people are affected by one form of malnutrition. In addition, food systems are rapidly changing leading to unprecedented changes in people’s diets. As a result, 42 million children are overweight before even reaching their fifth birthday and a staggering 1.9 billion adults are overweight. Unhealthy diet is now the leading risk factor for the global burden of disease among both men and women. Every country is affected by this nutrition crisis, including Pakistan.
Pakistan’s 2011 National Nutrition Survey (NNS) reveals high levels of stunting (43.7%) and wasting (10.5%) in children under 5 years of age; in addition, also almost 5% of children under five are overweight. Half of women of reproductive age are anaemic and the population suffers from a significant lack of vitamins and minerals. The developmental, social and health impacts of this burden are serious and often long lasting. Malnutrition increases Pakistan’s healthcare costs, reduces productivity and slows economic growth. It perpetuates the cycle of disease and poverty in the country.
However, momentum is building. Political will at the highest levels is increasing, a multi-sectoral nutrition strategy is being formulated and provincial platforms are being established to ensure effective coordination at all levels.
Nutrition actors, including government, development agencies, implementing partners, nutrition working groups and research institutions are coming together to address the underlying causes of malnutrition. They are mobilising mass media to generate awareness in the community and are working together to realise the substantial impact of coherent nutrition-related policies, plans and interventions.
Building on the success of the 2014 Second International Conference on Nutrition (ICN2) and in the framework of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, world leaders at the United Nations General Assembly proclaimed the UN Decade of Action on Nutrition from 2016 to 2025. Unprecedented in nature, the Nutrition Decade marks a new vision, momentum and direction in global action to address nutrition challenges. The Decade represents a unique, collective opportunity for achieving better nutrition for all people, at all times of their lives, through access to affordable, diversified, safe, sustainable and healthy diets.
As a member of the Scaling Up Nutrition (SUN) Movement since 2013 and with the support of the World Health Organisation, stakeholders are accelerating efforts to address all forms and causes of malnutrition, and effectively translate the ICN2 commitments and Sustainable Development Goals into concrete, nationally-determined policies and programmes, ensuring coherence between national, regional and international policies across multiple sectors.
WHO and the UN agency family, as well as the SUN Movement stand ready to accompany Pakistan on its road to good nutrition.
Published in The Express Tribune, April 19th, 2017.