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TURNING POINT: Overcoming Undernourishment

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NAAWAN, Misamis Oriental (MindaNews / 27 June) – If our children are the future of our country, then our country is in bad shape.

For the last 30 years, the prevalence of malnutrition or, to be precise, undernourishment, in the country hasn’t changed. Undernourishment impacts on the growth of a child. Accordingly, one in three children younger than five years old suffered from stunting. They are small in size for their age and weighs down below the standard for such group. There are kids who are already five years old but have the weight of a two-year-old, all bone and skin  with protruding stomach.  Severely weak and deformed, they are unable to walk.

Studies show that the lack of nutrients intake does not only stunts a child physically but also mentally. The child is physically and mentally weak.

A Filipino child with proper nutrition will have greater cognitive development, stay in school longer, learn more in school, motivated, and sociable. He is likely to have a brighter future as an adult. Whereas, an undernourished child lags behind in school, an isolate and ill-motivated, and stays shorter in school. His future is bleak. If he ever survived his harsh circumstances, he would be a weak addition to the country’s human capital.

The country is ranked fifth among countries in the East Asia and Pacific region with the highest prevalence of stunting, resulting from undernourishment, and is among the 10 countries in the world with the highest number of stunted children.

Worse is there are regions in the country of which the levels of stunting are unusually disturbing.

At least 45% of children in Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao below five are stunted, 40% in Southwestern Tagalog Region (MIMAROPA), 41% in Bicol Region, 40% in Western Visayas, and another 40% in south-central Mindanao Region (SOCCSKSARGEN).

Poverty is the primary determinant of undernourishment. A child becomes undernourished because while even still in the womb, he receives no sufficient nutrients from his undernourished and anemic mother; and once out into the world, he has to compete with his older siblings for inadequate and inappropriate food.

Poor families may have from six to as many as 12 children as sex is the easily available leisure for poor couples. Poor families have no access to family planning program, and those who are reached by government drive, have problem in observing the proper protocols.  Some areas of the country refuse family planning for reason of culture, tradition and pure necessity. Children add to farm hands. And the greater the number of household members, the stronger the family or the clan would become.

Economic prosperity rests, among others, on the quality of the country’s human capital. But this early, such capital is undermined by poor nutrition. This has to be corrected the soonest possible by government authorities to ensure our future.

Creating jobs and other livelihood opportunities is the first order of the day for the government in fighting undernourishment. It must adopt an evidence-based package of nutrition-specific interventions that can be made available to each household in all priority local government units (LGU).

For immediate consideration is to adopt a food-for-work program particularly for the unskilled labor force; a feeding program in schools in target communities; and an intensified communication in family planning.

Indeed, in overcoming undernourishment, responsible parenthood is a necessity to be promoted in depressed communities. A well-spaced child rearing generally improves the nutrition and the health of mother and children.

Educating poor families to produce healthy food right in their front and backyard make a lot of difference.

 In my tour of the coastal communities across the country as an LGU adviser in integrated coastal resource management, I noticed that fisher families were reluctant to plant anything in their yards because most of them do not own the lot where their house stood. They still had to buy vegetables like, kalamunggay and camote tops, or ask them from more resourceful and industrious neighbors. But one needs not own a land to make a vegetable garden. I encouraged them to make gardens out of their worn-out fishing boats, rather than let them simply rot or used as firewoods. After a while, some de-commissioned boats turned green with camote tops, pechay and eggplants. Broken pails were also planted with kalamunggay and alugbate; and unused water basins with leafy onions, tomato, and luy-a. Even discarded cement sacks had become a planting medium.

Hydroponic gardening using plastic soda bottles, empty cans, and plastic pipes may be introduced to poor urban communities in the fight against undernourishment.

The corporate social responsibility fund of big business may be tapped in the battle against undernourishment.

There is no limit to the imagination. (MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. William R. Adan, Ph.D., is retired professor and former chancellor of Mindanao State University at Naawan, Misamis Oriental, Philippines)

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