On the warpath

Six weeks ago, the Annual Health Bulletin announced that 37% of our children are stunting, that 4.6% of them are wasting, and that 11.1% are underweight.

This week, we learnt that the Right to Food Assessment Study concluded that 26.6% of our households are undernourished. That would also roughly mean that about a quarter of our population is undernourished. The study, it seems, was conducted sometime last year by FAO and the Ministry of Agriculture.

And recently, the Basic Health Worker in Chali has reported that “the number of malnourished children under the age of five in Chali geog under Mongar has almost doubled in just one year.”

We now know, from independent sources, that our people are undernourished. And that our children are stunting, wasting and underweight. So what are we doing about it? Not much. In fact, we seem to be doing nothing to specifically address this crisis.

What should we do? “Wage a WAR AGAINST MALNUTRITION,” cries Zekom. This is what Zekom implores:

Reducing poverty, especially rural poverty, is an obvious answer.

But, children cannot wait for Drukyul to get richer. Our nation’s future is being made NOW.

Wage a WAR AGAINST MALNUTRITION. Take the nourishing food to where the children and infants are — in schools and beyond schools — targeting the nutrition and trace elements missing in their diet.

Make sure to measure outcomes, in physical growth rates of beneficiary children, very frequently. You’ll be amazed how fast it works, if it’s done right. There’s nothing better than rapid positive results to fuel the FIRE in change agents’ belly, and inspire others to join hands.

Countries such as UK, Germany and Japan benefited from such programmes after the World War II. Concentrated orange juice and cod liver oil were delivered to every household with children under certain age in UK. Milk and various sources of vitamins were delivered to every infant and school lunches in Japan. Who financed these? USA. It was the top priority in their postwar reconstruction assistance efforts.

Recruit UNiCEF, UN World Food Programme, and other UN agencies as partners, and tap their global know-how on how to do it and do it right.

Where there is a will, there is a way.

More food for thought

Sangay made three critical observations to my last entry. Most of you would already know that I try not to reply to criticism, especially those targeted at me. But Sangay’s comments are constructive. So they deserve serious consideration.

First, Sangay cautioned: “… don’t just add up those figures – I am pretty sure that these are overlapping figures.” Sangay may be correct. In fact, Ken Shulman, a friend and journalist in America, also made a similar comment in my Facebook profile.

But look at the numbers again: 37% of our children are stunting; 4.6% are wasting; and 11.1% are underweight. Now, if the figures do, in fact, overlap, the numbers may be smaller (but can never better 37%), but the problem could be bigger. Overlapping figures give rise to three possibilities: one, that children who are stunting are also underweight (which would compound the impact of stunting); two, that stunting children are wasting (a terrible possibility); and three, that underweight children are wasting (ie., are starving).

I agree with Bhutanese Blogger: a study of the trend would be more meaningful. Still, with or without knowing the past, the facts speak for themselves: at least 37% of our children are seriously underfed. And, even if we intervened with full force, there’s little that can be done to reverse the adverse effects that stunting has already had on these children. But – this is what’s terrible – we will not intervene wholeheartedly. We cannot. Not unless we accept the problem.

Second, Sangay blames capitalism for “robbing our children”. This is a point of ideology. So it cannot be argued.  Everyone would want to reduce the gap between the rich and the poor. And, there’re basically only three ways to do that: make the rich relatively poorer; make the poor relatively richer; or do both.  Personally, I favour the second approach. I want our poor to become richer relative to their present state, and relative to the rate at which the rich may grow richer.

And third, Sangay did not like that I had raised an issue (undernourished children) without offering solutions. This, specifically, is what Sangay wrote: “And, Don’t mean to be harsh but just don;t give a food for thought (being the OL) – which is the biggest problem. It is easy to make noise but I would assume that in your position, you should come up with ideas which will really give us a REAL FOOD FOR THOUGHT. I can go on complaining about every statistic in the country but I can’t come up with REAL IDEAS – which is what we need at the moment.”

Other readers have expressed similar concerns too. And, about six months ago, I wrote about why I sometimes raise issues without offering solutions. In other words, why I make “noise”. “Food for thought” sought to bring attention to the desperate and shameful state of our children.  The facts were presented in the Annual Health Bulletin, and the story was run by one newspaper. Still, this critical issue has not been given any meaningful attention.

Numbers generated by our government tell us that about half our children go to bed hungry every night, and yet we – yes, all of us, not just the government – refuse to discuss, let alone accept, this fact. That’s why I made noise.

If the noise is just that, noise, then don’t give it any more attention. Don’t waste your time.

But, if the noise points to an important issue, then let’s think about it. Even if it makes us uncomfortable. And if you have suggestions, please share them here.  Let’s discuss them. They will help me craft the letter I intend to submit to the government concerning our undernourished children.