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Child hunger defies Africa's economic growth.

More than 820 million people worldwide are still going hungry, which makes reaching the target of zero hunger by 2030, nearly impossible, especially in Africa. One in three children in Africa is stunted, which reduces the likelihood of achieving multiple sustainable development goals.

Hunger accounts for nearly half of all child deaths in Africa. Moreover, nine out of 10 African children do not meet the minimum acceptable diet recommended by the World Health Organization.

Stunting is a horrific early growth failure and has been described by the World Health Organization (WHO) as the most significant impediment to human development.

Stunting is caused by poor nutrition and maternal health especially in the first 1,000 days, which is the first two years from conception. Sadly, the effects of stunting are irreversible. Children over the age of two years are unlikely to regain lost development potential and carry long-term deficits in cognitive capacity.

Hunger and stunting also undermine the economic performance of countries. For example, it is estimated that between 40 and 67 per cent of the working population in Egypt, Ethiopia, Uganda and Swaziland was stunted as children. Today, this early growth failure costs these economies between 1.9 and 16.5 per cent of GDP.

How does the so-called Africa Rising saga square with rising hunger and enduring stunting of hundreds of millions of African children?

But the economic and health benefits of investing in children are compelling. According to a report published by the African Child Policy Forum, every dollar (Sh102) invested in reducing stunting, there is a return of about $22 (Sh2,245) in Chad, $21 (Sh2,142) in Senegal, and $17 (Sh1,734) in Niger and Uganda', and if the investment is made early in the child's life, the return rates can be even higher: up to $85 (Sh8,673) in Nigeria, $80 (Sh8,163) in Sudan and $60 (Sh6,122) in Kenya.

High prevalence of stunting converges with mothers' literacy levels and low level of learning achievement among children. The East African Institute's research on spatial patterns of inequality at the suggests that stunting could explain up to 46 per cent of the difference among eight counties (Turkana, Marsabit, Wajir, Mandera, Tana River, West Pokot, Garissa, Samburu and Isiolo), and the remaining 38 counties.

'Food for Thought', a report by Save the Children published in 2013, showed that compared with normal children, stunted children: Score seven per cent lower on math tests; are 19 per cent less likely to be able to read a simple sentence at age eight, and 12 per cent less likely able to write a simple sentence; and, are 13 per cent less likely to be able to be in the appropriate grade for their age at school.

How does the so-called Africa Rising saga square with rising hunger and enduring stunting of hundreds of millions of African children? African leaders must engender people-centred and inclusive structural transformation. Growth must be measured in gains in quality of life, not just GDP.

The African Development Bank estimates the cost of closing Africa's infrastructure gap at $360 billion (Sh36.7 trillion), with significant investments required by 2020. What would it cost to halt the march of hunger and malnutrition and secure the first 1,000 days for all African children?

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Publication:The Star (Nairobi, Kenya)
Geographic Code:60AFR
Date:Jul 24, 2019
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