World Food Day

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Does Your Child Go Hungry? By Wezi Tjaronda WINDHOEK The world commemorates World Food Day today amidst concerns that many of the world’s 400 million hungry children’s lives are still plagued by malnutrition in the first few months after they are born. Research shows that the rapid development of the brain during the early months and years of an infant is crucial as it influences learning, behaviour and health throughout the life cycle, and hunger negatively affects children’s brain development, setting back their chances of succeeding later on in life. In Namibia, 40 percent of 636 households that were sampled in six regions in a Community and Household Surveillance survey were found to be acutely vulnerable to hunger, while 17 percent were found to be asset poor. The survey was aimed at assessing the food security and livelihoods of orphans and vulnerable children in the Kavango, Caprivi, Oshana, Ohangwena, Omusati and Oshikoto regions. Other statistics indicate that 24 percent of children under five years of age are chronically malnourished, while nine percent are acutely malnourished, which the Resident Representative of WFP in Namibia, John Prout, said was unacceptable and highlights existing inequalities between the rich and the poor. Worse still, chronic under nutrition in the country is exacerbated by the HIV/AIDS pandemic, whose prevalence rate is 19.7 percent. This has led to a number of children being left in the care of single parents, elder siblings and grandparents who are barely able to survive. WFP Executive Director, James Morris, said in a news release last week that given that 70 percent of brain development occurs in the first two years of life, malnutrition in early childhood could have devastating effects because even before they can walk and talk, the kids are already behind. Other studies have found that iron deficiency in children of two years is associated with poor performance once they reach school, while those who have suffered from malnutrition before two years of age tend to have smaller brains than those who are well nourished. Similarly, children with stunted growth can lose years of education because they start school much later than they should. While this is the case in many underdeveloped and developing countries, Morris said the developed world could make a difference because there is more than enough food in the world. He said once Italy’s food requirements are met, there would be sufficient food left over to feed undernourished people in Ethiopia; France’s extra food could feed the hungry in the Democratic Republic of Congo, while the United States of America could cover all the hungry in Africa. Since April 2006, the WFP in Namibia and the Ministry of Gender Equality and Child Welfare have embarked on a joint programme to provide food assistance to children who are not yet receiving any assistance from the government’s safety net system. Although 50 000 children are receiving grants at the moment, many more need to be covered. The programme plans to reach 100 000 food insecure and vulnerable children in the six regions by December 2006. Namibia will commemorate the World Food Day at Dordabis, where the Khomas regional governor Sophia Shaningwa will be the keynote speaker. Other activities that have been organised include a parade from Synman Circle to four locations in Windhoek, namely, Otjomuise, Ombili, Havana and Goreangab, where officials will distribute food, T-Shirts and caps to people.