KATHMANDU, Nepal — Malnutrition not only affects the individual, but the society at large as well. When individuals are not operating at their highest capacity, the culture, economy and environment suffer along with it. It is thought that each year malnutrition causes 2-3 percent of the GDP to be lost in Nepal, a country deeply affected by malnutrition. This comes as a result of malnourished children growing up into sickly, unproductive and uneducated adults who have trouble contributing to the job market and society as a whole.
When children do not have proper care and nourishment, it impacts their performance at school and ability to learn. Forty-one percent of children under 5 have stunted growth and 29 percent are moderately to severely underweight while 8 percent are severely underweight in Nepal. This number increases for the poorest fifth of the population with 40 percent being underweight. Only a third of Nepalese students complete grade 10 and only 4.6 percent of the population reaches tertiary education. The literacy rate is also low at only 60 percent for adults. The preceding evidence seems contradictory to Nepal’s high rates of enrollment, at 86 percent for elementary school and 88 for high school. A possible explanation for this discrepancy of high enrollment but poor academic performance could be the lack of proper brain development due to malnutrition.
The reason malnutrition in Nepal is prevalent is not only due to poverty but the geography as well. The highest rates of malnutrition happen in the hard to reach mountainous regions. There is little infrastructure in these areas with a lack of roads and medical facilities. Unpredictable weather can cause problems for farming and therefore cause high levels of food insecurity. All of these factors come together to cause stunted growth in over 60 percent of the people living in the mountainous regions.
The rural and urban populations are roughly equal with each comprising half the population. However, rates of malnutrition and disease are higher in rural areas. It is important for the government to give attention to those living in rural areas since they account for half the population. The government only spends 1.4 percent of the GDP on health care. This could be one of the main reasons that malnutrition in Nepal is such a problem.
Some believe an area the government and NGOs should spend money on is educating the population about nutrition. Misconceptions about nutrition exacerbates the problem. For example, many Nepalese families believe that delivery will be difficult if you feed the pregnant woman lots of food. This leads pregnant women to not eat enough while pregnant. There are also issues relating to gender that cause malnutrition in Nepal. Women and girls tend to eat less than men. There are food hierarchies and men get more food first.
It is clear that education, reduction of gender inequality and more money spent by the government on health and better infrastructure within the isolated mountainous communities will help decrease malnutrition in Nepal. There are also many NGOs and intergovernmental organizations like UNICEF who work directly in Nepal. The World Bank increased its direct funding to end malnutrition in 2013-14 from $230 million to $600 million. Much of the money and support is directed to Nepal, which is one of the more notorious countries for malnutrition. Those individuals and organizations will continue their efforts to end this humanitarian problem.
Sources: World Food Program, UNICEF1, UNICEF2 IRIN, The Guardian
Photo: Action Against Hunger