Despite the progress, economic and social improvements that Namibia has experienced since independence, almost 50 % of Namibian children are anaemic according to Deputy Minister: Office of the Prime Minister Christine //Hoebes.
Speaking at the official opening of the Regional Parliamentary Seminar on Promoting Child Nutrition in the SADC region, the deputy minister highlighted that food insecurity in the region and Namibia is a growing concern as families continue to suffer hunger night after night due to food insecurity.
“It is unacceptable that almost half of the population of Namibia practice open defecation; it is unacceptable that more than 50% of Namibian babies do not reap the benefits of exclusive breastfeeding and it is unacceptable that families continue to suffer hunger night after night due to food insecurity”, she said.
// Hoebes commended the progress made in Namibia to date with regards to the reduction of stunting in children sighting a reduction in stunting from 29% in 2006 to 24% in 2013. She however highlighted that the current situation is such that one in four children in Namibia is stunted, which means that they have less learning potential, which translates to less earning potential in adulthood. A stunted child’s contribution to national development is therefore compromised due to low productivity as an adult.
She said that there are essentially three levels of action required for reducing malnutrition; the first being enhancing and expanding the quality and coverage of nutrition specific interventions, the second is to maximise the nutrition sensitivity of interventions such as agriculture, social protection, water and sanitation.
The third level of action is enabling the environment for the first two levels to be effective.
“We can assure that high quality well-resourced interventions for nutrition are available to those who need them and that agriculture, social protection, water and sanitation systems and programmes are pro-actively reoriented to support nutrition goals”, she said.
Studies show that many Namibian children still suffer many forms of malnutrition including stunting, wasting, underweight and overweight. According to the 2013 Demographic and Health Survey, stunting rates are 24% nationally but as high as 37% in Ohangwena region and close to 30% in 7 out of the fourteen regions. Food insecurity and malnutrition are widespread and chronic.
Echoing //Hoebes’ sentiments was the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) Country Representative, Michaela de Sousa who said that, “nearly one in four children under the age of five is stunted (24%), nearly one in seven is underweight (13%), and one in 15 (6%) is wasted.”
She said that children born in the poorest and second poorest wealth quintile households have a threefold risk of being stunted compared to those born in the richest quintile and that parliaments can help tackle malnutrition in their affected countries. “Parliaments can make a critical contribution to the efforts being made on the ground. They have the power to enact laws and regulations, influence the shape of national development plans, determine national budget design and allocations, monitor and oversee the government implementation of commitments to children and hold it to account.