The challenge of malnutrition in remote parts of the world like the Pacific has both a human and economic cost – and can be devastating not only for individuals but at a macro-level too.
Malnutrition: a slow-onset disaster
Malnutrition may not be the first thing that springs to mind when you think of natural disasters, but can be as life-threatening as earthquakes or hurricanes. Climatic-related shocks, such as drought or excessive rainfall, place a strain on the availability and affordability of food, clean drinking water and health care.
You may think it’s a problem that only affects developing countries, but malnutrition is not just about people not getting enough food. It comes in different forms, ranging from under nutrition to obesity. In fact, malnutrition affects all countries and one in three people across the globe.1
The challenge of malnutrition in the Pacific.
In regions such as the Pacific, malnutrition presents a significant human cost, but also creates a larger economic problem for the development of island nations.
As a region, the Pacific has the highest malnutrition rates in the world. In countries like Papua New Guinea, almost half (48.3%) of children under five are stunted due to a lack of vital nutrition. Similarly, the Solomon Islands, a nation of over half a million people, has a stunting rate of 32.8%.2
Under nutrition during the first 1,000 days of life can have life-long consequences for a child’s educational attainment, productivity and income-earning prospects. These individual losses often translate into reduced economic growth at the macro level, perpetuating poverty across generations.
The Pacific is extremely sparsely populated with communities scattered across thousands of small islands. To put this in perspective, the state of New York has a population density of around 160 people per square kilometre. By comparison, the Pacific has only four people per square kilometre. This makes it difficult for governments, NGO’s and communities to respond in times of crisis.
In recent years increasingly extreme climatic patterns like that of El Niño have caused a spike in sea temperatures and drop in rainfall. In turn, this has exacerbated drought conditions in the region and made it difficult for populations to access food and water. It is clear that if we are to start reaching these communities then a new approach is needed.
Making a difference through partnership
Working together with Save the Children and the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade in Australia, we supported the deployment of mobile health team – as part of Save the Children’s new Emergency Health Unit (EHU) initiative.
These mobile health teams will be an important component of the EHU initiative, which is designed to provide a rapid response to health needs in disasters and conflicts and to tackle malnutrition.
“Malnutrition in 2016 is unacceptable. No child’s survival or development should be threatened by a condition that is entirely preventable.”
Going forward, this mobile health team will provide support for children across the Pacific who have been impacted by this growing crisis. We’ve been working alongside Save the Children and the Australian government to fund a mobile health team that can specifically help identify malnourished children and work in partnership with governments and other NGOs to address their most immediate needs like nutrition and access to water.
Since its inception in 2013, our partnership with Save the Children has reached 1.3 million children.3 This has been achieved through a number of initiatives in addition to the EHU that focus on finding new ways in reducing child mortality.
Together we have an ambitious goal of helping to save one million children’s lives. We hope that through supporting projects like the EHU in the Pacific, we will help target some of the causes of child mortality worldwide.
1 Household Income and Economic Expenditure survey (GoPNG Data source)
2 Global Nutrition Report -http://globalnutritionreport.org/the-report/