Tuesday, November 08, 2011

Four million Lankans anaemic; the aged go hungry

By Elmo Leonard | Lakbima News

Four million Sri Lankans are anaemic, 1.3 million school-goers underweight and 0.4 million children under five years of age are underfed, Head of Nutrition, Medical Research Institute (MRI) Dr. Renuka Jayatissa said in Colombo last week.

Hunger stared in the face of 0.3 million of the country’s elderly or people over 60-year of age; 1.8 million of the country’s womenfolk are underweight, Dr. Jayatissa said at the launch of the World Disaster Report 2011.

On the other side of the coin, 1.3 million women aged between 15 and 49 years were obese or overweight. The survey which continues island wide is being carried out in the categories of poorest, poor, middle, rich and richest levels and the data collated is both revealing and interesting, Dr. Jayatissa Herath said.

Over one billion go hungry every night

The Sri Lankan population is nutritionally in a stage of transition while people lacked education on how to make use of food available for optimum nourishment, she explained. Backing her conclusions, Dr. Jayatissa showed that while 26 per cent of the country’s poor women with child are underweight, 11 per cent of the affluent pregnant women are emaciated.

Obesity was a phenomenon more common among the middle class women. Cases of obesity were most marked among women whose husbands held well-paid jobs; such women stayed at home, had domestic aides and needed little effort to get through life.

Over a billion people worldwide go hungry to bed every night, and ironically, 1.5 billion people in the world are overweight. Where food was scare, women and the aged worldwide, and in Sri Lanka, received the least amount of food, delegates from abroad said.

Dr. Jayatissa showed graphs which suggested that among the poorest category, less than 95 per cent of boys and a lesser percentage of girls from the ages of five to 17 years received three meals per day. Among males of the poorest section of society, in the 18 to 59 year category less than 85 per cent have access to three meals while the same number of women received three meals per day. As the graph moved from the poorest, to the middle rich and richest, older women were given preference of food over older men.

In the middle income levels, 95 per cent of women and 90 per cent of men received three meals per day.

Less than 26.2 per cent of the poorest mothers were underweight in the island and of the infants they gave birth to, 24.5 per cent were underweight.

In the poor category, 22.2 per cent of mothers were underweight and 20.7 of their babies were underfed, or malnourished.

In the rich category, 13.2 per cent of mothers were underweight and 15.1 per cent of their children were of low birth weight.

Of children under five years of age, 0.38 million are stunted. Stunting originated during the critical 100 days from conception to a child’s second birthday, Dr. Jayatissa said.

The Disaster Management Report says that the world’s poorest people were at risk from rocketing food prices and volatile global markets.

Era of cheap food over

A new round of food inflation and severe hikes in the price of basic foodstuffs such as rice, maize, oil, sugar and salt were plunging many of the world’s poorer people, including millions across the Horn of Africa into deeper poverty and into situations of severe hunger and malnourishment. The worst hit those poor people who typically spend between 50 and 80 per cent of their income on food.

Bob McKerrow, head of the International Federation of Red Cross (IFRC) delegation in Sri Lanka said that governments and donors should invest more in agriculture, thus giving a helping hand to farmers.

It was not just food which was becoming more expensive but the prices of new technologies, seeds, fertilizers and fuel needed to transport food which are also going up, McKerrow said.

Thus, there is a need to boost the agricultural sector in such a way so as to protect people who find themselves at the mercy of inflation and other economic vagaries, including even the global stock markets, which bring to bear on the production of food and its prices, McKerrow added.

Tissa Abeywickrema, director general of the local Red Cross movement said it seemed that the global volatility of food prices is here to stay and the era of cheap food, seems to be over.

Foreign delegates said that while 85 per cent of the poorest class of men in Sri Lanka received three meals a day, a lesser percentage of women also received three meals a day.

The FAO representative, Dr. D.S. Kuruppuarachchi said that while the country was near self-sufficient in rice, food prices across the board remained high, often keeping such commodities out of the reach of even the middle income levels.

Dr. Kuruppuarachchi thought aloud that the matter of high price was not acute in Sri Lanka as in some other parts of the world. The World Disaster Report is an annual feature of ht eInternational Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies and was launched simultaneously in Sri Lanka and the world over.

Levels of nutrition differ

One way of bringing down prices of grain was to improve production. The government had recently introduced heavy taxes on the importation of green gram and other grains to encourage local production, Dr. Kuruppuarachchi said.

Head of Nutrition, Ministry of Health, Prof. Ramani Jayatillake said that the nutritional levels of people in different parts of the country differed. The people in the island’s coastal regions had access to fish and coconut. Further inland, paddy cultivation was a main provider of food. In the dry zone, the slash and burn method was going out of use. Estate nutrition was low, the people adopting food habits different to people in other sectors.

Foreign delegates present said that 1.5 billion people in the world lacked vitamins and minerals and while malnourished and overweight percentages were on the rise globally, the same is true of Sri Lanka. But the problem is avoidable.

© Lakbima News

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