The world could save 2 million children every year if it helped the neediest countries take 13 recommended steps to conquer malnutrition, according to a new report from Save the Children.
The World Bank has estimated that it would cost between $10 billion and $12 billion annually to roll out those changes in the 36 neediest countries, including promoting breastfeeding for newborns, encouraging use of iodized salt, hand washing and giving zinc and vitamin A supplements to children.
The $10 billion is “easily affordable” if countries split the cost, Save the Children wrote in its new report. It is a fraction of the $140 billion annually that the United States and other countries have spent on Afghan military operations. One California tax proposed last year would have covered the same cost.
Chronic malnutrition is often overlooked until extreme famines grab headlines, Save the Children argues. The problem makes children more vulnerable to disease and cuts their chances of surviving if an emergency food crisis does hit, it wrote.
"The world can no longer afford to wait until visibly emaciated children grab headlines to inspire the action these children need and deserve," Save the Children's president and chief executive, Carolyn Miles, said in a statement.
With only slight progress in combating malnutrition and booming population growth, there are 15 million more stunted children in Africa than two decades ago, the group found. Some countries have actually seen their malnutrition rates go up, including Nigeria and Tanzania.
There are some hopeful exceptions: Saudi Arabia, Angola, China, Brazil and Mexico reduced malnutrition at a remarkable pace over the last 20 years, Save the Children says. Many of those countries have also experienced strong economic growth; social protection programs are also a factor.
The map below shows malnutrition rates for children younger than 5, according to the most recent World Bank data. The figures show that the problem is especially severe in India and much of Africa:
-- Emily Alpert in Los Angeles
Photo: A volunteer feeds milk to a malnourished child at the Apanalay Center in Mumbai, India, in January. Forty-two percent of children in India younger than 5 are underweight and nearly 60% are stunted, according to a national survey. Credit: Rajanish Kakade / Associated Press