UN food envoy: Zim children underweight due to hunger

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By Robert Tapfumaneyi

CHRONIC malnutrition and stunting is endemic throughout the country, where 90 percent of children aged 6 to 24 months only consume the minimal diet in order to survive, United Nations special rapporteur on the right to food Hilal Elver has said.

Elver was in the country for a week on a fact-finding mission about the food situation in the country.

She visited a number of districts and met with government and civil society organisation leaders to gauge their views on the situation of the ground.

“The vast majority of children I met in the rural parts of Masvingo and in Mwenezi, as well as in informal settings in the suburbs of Harare, appeared severely stunted and underweight due to reduced food availability caused by high levels of poverty and the consequence of the recurrent drought and floods,” Elver told the media as she presented her preliminary findings in Harare last Friday.

“The situation is also dire in urban settings. The dieticians and paediatricians I met at Parirenyatwa hospital in Harare explained to me that the death of children from malnutrition had been on the rise in the last few months.

“I have myself witnessed the ravaging effects of malnutrition on infants deprived of breast milk and micronutrient supplementation because of their own mothers’ lack of access to adequate food.”

Added the UN envoy, “Children are often fed with maize porridge or sadza, which are not sufficiently nutritious. At times, they eat some portion of vegetables, mostly cabbage.

“It is estimated that children who receive appropriate nutrition during this period are 10 times more likely to survive potentially fatal childhood diseases.”

The UN envoy then called upon the government to initiate a master plan for a sustainable and nutrition sensitive food production system which will take into account the country’s natural resources and climatic conditions with a view to diversifying the diet of its people.

Elver said in times of emergency, there is a tendency to think about the quantity of the food, instead of its quality.