Friday, September 21, 2012

CfSC: Malawians Suffering the Effects of Income, Nutritional Poverty Due to Economic Downturn


That most Malawians are suffering from the effects of income and nutritional poverty in the face of the ensuing economic downturn is not an overstatement.

Since the Malawi economy started to show signs of a serious slowdown, a high percentage of struggling households have plunged into extreme poverty and as a consequence their household incomes are inadequate to meet the cost of basic food and essential non-food items.

This is clear testimony of the depth of poverty in the country. According to Centre for Social Concern (CfSC) Rural Basic Needs Basket - a quarterly survey that measures nutritional poverty and social service delivery in selected rural districts of Malawi that include Chikwawa, Lilongwe rural, Zomba rural and Dedza continues to reflect serious income and nutritional deficiencies.
The 2012 CfSC fourth quarter Rural Basic Needs Basket (Rural BNB) indicates serious failure by most households to meet key nutritional requirements deviating significantly from the World Health Organisation (WHO) recommended standards for an individual to lead a healthy and dignified life. For instance, the average energy intake in this quarter shows that most households are consuming approximately 1892 kilocalories falling far below the WHO recommended 2400kilocalorie threshold for a rural setting. Such as deficient presents multiple developmental challenges especially to growing children – with the prospects of having a negative lifelong impact.
The National Statistical Office (NSO) Integrated Household Survey report (HIS, 2010-2012) also reveals that 30.6% of 6 to 59 months old children in Malawi are underweight. Indeed, nutritional poverty continues to be reflected by the unacceptably high chronic malnutrition rates currently standing at a national average of 1% (severe) and 11.4% (moderate) for 6 to 59 months old children being stunted.
Furthermore, over 76% of households in our Rural BNB study areas failed to meet the cost of essential non-food items. Although most households in rural Malawi produce their own food, the above statistics means that households in those rural areas are not only nutritionally poor but also income impoverished – a fact reflected by their failure to meet the cost of essential non food items like bathing soap, among others. In view of the above developments, CfSC reasserts the need to see nutritional and income poverty being actively addressed especially in rural communities.
One of the ways this could be done is through more regular collection of information on rural poverty and its timely dissemination to relevant stakeholders at different levels to aid in the design and implementation of rural programmes that seek to address this issue. Although policy pronouncements are important as a starting point for sustainable responses, government should go beyond policy prescriptions to implementation of strategies and programmes.
Stakeholders in the rural development agenda should recognise that nutrition is not just about food. To make the necessary change in lives of Malawians affected by nutritional poverty thus requires concerted and broad multi-sectoral approach. This concerted response needs the full engagement of affected communities, working closely with relevant government ministries especially at the local level.
Malawi can also benefit from global expertise and good practices in this regard. Proven solutions are available in addressing income and nutritional poverty from which we can learn as a nation.