Tag Archives: economic development

What is Stunting?

In today’s post, I wanted to revisit stunting. Over and over again, stunting emerges as one of the most critical hurdles to achieving full economic and social development in a global context. The condition affects over 162 million children under the age of 5 (Stunting Policy Brief, WHO and 1,000 Days). There is a significant amount of research into the causes and effects of this state of malnutrition, and a growing body of evidence-based interventions to combat it. So what is stunting?

 

Technically, the condition of stunting is defined as “a height that is more than two standard deviations below the World Health Organization (WHO) child growth standards median.” (Stunting Policy Brief, WHO and 1,000 Days) As any statistician might tell you, that’s quite extreme. It is important to recognize that so many hundreds of millions of children persist in this condition despite the extremity of its definition. However, the real tragedy of stunting is the irreversible long-term damage it inflicts including “diminished cognitive and physical development, reduced productive capacity and poor health, and an increased risk of degenerative diseases such as diabetes.” (Stunting Policy Brief, WHO and 1,000 Days)

Research has demonstrated the correlation between stunting before the age of 2 with diminished cognitive and educational ability later in life. Stunting is associated with fewer years of school completed, and significantly lower academic performances compared to non-stunted peers. In addition, stunting in women is associated with lower age at first childbirth and a higher number of total pregnancies. Stunting has been estimated by economists to reduce a country’s GDP by up to 3%. Furthermore it is associated with lower household income and a greater chance of living in poverty. One of the most shocking data points I came across is that stunted children earn an “estimated 20% less as adults compared to non-stunted individuals”. (Investing in Nutrition, World Bank)

Think about that for a minute – in India, the average GDP per capita in 2015 was roughly USD 1,581 (World Bank). If you were unfortunate enough to be stunted as a child, something that you had no control over, you can expect to earn on average USD 316 less every year, a truly significant amount of money at the margins. If you take into consideration the mean individual income of only the bottom 50% of income earners, you can imagine how disenfranchising that 20% diminishment in income really is.

One of the most important developments in the fight against malnutrition, including stunting, occurred in 2012 when the 194 member states of the World Health Assembly (WHA) endorsed six global targets to improve nutrition by 2025. (Interestingly enough, the world is currently not on track to meet even a single one of these targets…more on that later). The nutrition target for stunting is a 40% reduction in the number of children under 5 who are stunted. This translates roughly to at least 65 million fewer children who are stunted in 2025 and an estimated 2.8 million child lives saved. (Investing in Nutrition, World Bank)

As part of the effort to successfully reach the target goal for stunting, the WHO recommends the following actions to drive progress:

  1. Improve the identification, measurement and understanding of stunting and scale up coverage of stunting-prevention activities.
  2. Enact policies and/or strengthen interventions to improve maternal nutrition and health, beginning with adolescent girls.
  3. Implement interventions for improved exclusive breastfeeding and complementary feeding practices.
  4. Strengthen community-based interventions including improved water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH), to protect children from diarrheal diseases and malaria, intestinal worms and environmental causes of subclinical infection.

 

To learn more about stunting, please visit and donate generously to 1,000 Days.

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Ours is not a caravan of despair

Beginnings are always the hardest. Rumi says, “Come again to the Sema…even if you have broken your vows a thousand times, come again. For ours is not a caravan of despair”.

This is a great starting point for my approach to the work of development and poverty alleviation. The post-World War II history of development has been a complicated narrative at times built on foreign policy strategy, at times on human rights, and at times on pure spite. Recently we have come to view the work of development as our vow to fulfill a tryst with our brothers and sisters in the world community who are most disenfranchised and oppressed. While steady progress has been made in some serious respects, there have also been some truly terrible mistakes along the way. But we ask ourselves and others to come again and again to this work – because ours is not a caravan of despair.

With this blog, I want to explore the current state of development, the interventions and mechanisms that are being deployed on a micro and macro level, and the implications experienced by actual people and communities.

Specifically:

  • I want to focus on South Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA), although India will be of personal interest to the author as it is his ancestral homeland and love
  • I will start with a focus on three specific development areas
    • Women’s empowerment –  issues of women’s rights and justice, reproductive health, and economic empowerment
    • Early childhood education – issues of primary school education and remedial education
    • Hunger and malnutrition – issues of nutritional intervention policies, agricultural policies, and the link between food-based interventions and health implications

The course is uncharted, and my ambition is to remain loose, open, and malleable as this blog progresses. I will also try and incorporate guest bloggers and writers when I can to provide alternate perspectives on issues. My hope for this blog is primarily two-fold: first, to create a space for myself to reflect on the complicated and important world of development and second, to raise and continue the level of discourse in the online community about development.

Without further ado, let’s start the show.