Cost of Hunger in Africa Study: A Regional Look at the Price of child undernutrition in Africa

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Published on 04 April 2014

Abuja, 28 March: The first report of the Cost of Hunger in Africa (COHA) Study that unveils the crushing impact of child undernutrition on the economies of four African countries was launched today in Abuja, Nigeria during a high level event organized on the sidelines of the Seventh Conference of African Ministers of Finance, Planning and Economic Development.

Experts are gathered here in Abuja to look at the startling results of the Cost of Hunger in Africa report, covering Egypt, Ethiopia, Swaziland and Uganda, which revealed staggering statistics for each country.

Ethiopia lost an estimated US$4.7 billion in 2009 because of child undernutrition. This is equivalent to 16.5 percent of the country's Gross Domestic Product (GDP), which is often used as an indicator of how an economy is performing.  

In Egypt, the study concluded that 40 per cent of adults were stunted as children. This represents more than 20 million people of working age who are not able to achieve their potential, as a consequence of child undernutrition.

Child undernutrition costs Swaziland around US $92 million per year in lost worker productivity.

Uganda spends around US$254 million per year treating cases of diarrhoea, anaemia and respiratory infections linked to malnutrition. The early deaths among children each year of causes related to hunger reduce Uganda’s labour force by some 3.8 percent. That amounts to some 934 million working hours lost every year due to an absent workforce.

"Nutrition is both a crucial social and economic issue and I am committed to pursuing nutrition as a priority within Africa’s development agenda , while fulfilling the mandate provided by the Ministers of Finance and Economic Planning in 2012 to complete the study,” said Dr. Mustapha Sidiki Kaloko, Commissioner of Social Affairs of the African Union Commission.

 “This study has the potential to help shape the future of Africa and the African Union Commission has proposed to member states a new flagship initiative named “Africa’s Renewed Initiative for Stunting Elimination” (ARISE 2025), which directly proposes the scenarios presented in each country report, as the goal for the reduction in stunting by the year 2025," Commissioner Kaloko added.

According to the UN Under-Secretary General and Executive Secretary of the Economic Commission for Africa (ECA) Carlos Lopes, the result shows that eliminating stunting in Africa is a necessary step for its growth and transformation.

“I urge governments to ensure that the recommendations of this study are fully implemented and the enactment of the proposed food and nutrition laws for the structural transformation of the continent,” Lopes said.

United Nations World Food Programme Assistant Executive Director Manoj Juneja explained that the results of the study add to the growing urgency of efforts to eradicate undernutrition. Juneja stressed the need to provide nutrition-specific interventions to those at risk, especially children less than two years of age, adolescent girls, pregnant women and nursing mothers.  

“This is a requirement if we are to break the cycle of undernutrition and protect the next generation,’ Juneja said.

The report argues that policy-makers must review their national development frameworks and ensure that the reduction of stunting is an outcome indicator of their social and economic development policies.

The report was launched at a high-level panel discussion, which stressed the enormous potential for change that emerged when finance ministers, agriculture ministers, development actors, private sector, NGOs and UN agencies sat around a table and agreed to aim for nothing less than the total eradication of child stunting on the continent.

The overall study, led by the African Union Commission, and supported by the Economic Commission for Africa, the New Partnership for African Development and the UN World Food Programme, is being conducted in a total of 12 African countries, using a methodology originally applied in Latin America. Studies have been carried out so far in Egypt, Ethiopia, Swaziland, Uganda and Rwanda and are planned in Botswana, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Ghana, Kenya, Malawi, and Mauritania.

COHA is being implemented in support of the African Regional Nutrition Strategy 2005-2015 (ARNS) and the Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Programme (CAADP).

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