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In Mozambique, Progress on Child Hunger Lags Economic Growth
The southern African nation of Mozambique was devastated by the time a 1992 peace agreement ended a 15-year civil war that killed a million people. But in the new millennium, things started to turn around. From 2001 to 2010, Mozambique had the world’s eighth-highest economic growth rate, and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) projects that it will have the fourth-highest rate for the period 2011 to 2015.
Unfortunately, improvements in poverty and hunger have not automatically followed. A stronger economy means that the country has more resources available, but clear strategies to help poor people share in the gains will be needed to translate economic growth into lower poverty and hunger rates.
According to UNICEF’s recently-released report Child Poverty and Disparities in Mozambique 2010, there was no progress against poverty between 2002 and 2008. Of Mozambique's almost 21.5 million people, nearly 12 million—or 55 percent of the population—live below the official poverty line of 18.4 Meticais (about 50 cents) a day.
Mozambique has been named a priority country in the U.S. Feed the Future initiative, whose goals are to reduce poverty and hunger (particularly the proportion of children who are underweight, a key indicator of a community’s nutritional status). Feed the Future plans to support efforts to improve nutrition and strengthen Mozambique’s agricultural sector. Very slow improvement in agricultural productivity is, in fact, a major factor in the lack of progress on poverty from 2002 to 2008, said the UNICEF report, citing Mozambique’s Ministry of Planning and Development.
Children suffer the deadly consequences of the country’s very high and sustained poverty rate. The main underlying cause of mortality among children younger than 5 is malnutrition. More than half of Mozambican children consume fewer calories than the World Health Organization considers adequate. According to Child Poverty and Disparities in Mozambique 2010, the rate of stunting (being shorter than a healthy child the same age, a sign of chronic malnutrition) is 44 percent among children under 5. This is a decrease of only 4 percentage points since 2003. Mozambique is one of 36 countries which are home to 90 percent of all stunted children under 5.
The report noted progress against the worst form of malnutrition, however: the proportion of children with severe nutritional deprivation dropped from 27 percent in 2003 to 20 percent in 2008.
Recognizing that child hunger affects not only each child as an individual but also the country’s overall development, Mozambique’s government prepared a Multi-Sectoral Plan of Action for the Reduction of Chronic Undernutrition 2011-2014 (2020). (The plan is available in Portuguese here.) Its goals are to reduce chronic malnutrition in children under 5 from the 44 percent recorded in 2008, to 30 percent by 2015 and 20 percent by 2020.
The Mozambican plan, like those of many countries active in the Scaling Up Nutrition (SUN) process, is based on groundbreaking research published in the leading medical journal The Lancet in 2008.The research identified effective, affordable interventions that can significantly reduce maternal/child malnutrition.
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