By Rafiu Ajakaye
At least 33 percent of Nigerians will escape extreme poverty if the country successfully tackles malnutrition, nutrition experts have said, arguing that malnourished children have zero potential to contribute to the economy.
“Fighting malnutrition is an urgent imperative for Nigeria because any economy where 50 percent of the children are stunted or wasted is doomed. If Nigeria overcomes the menace of malnutrition, 33 percent of poor people will get out of extreme poverty and give their own children a better chance at life,” said Davis Bamidele Omotola, UNICEF nutrition consultant, on Wednesday.
He was speaking in Yola, the capital of Nigeria’s northeastern Adamawa state, at a two-day media dialogue on child malnutrition with the theme “Investing in child malnutrition for the future.” The event was attended by journalists, government officials, and representatives of UNICEF and the U.K. Department for International Development (DfID).
Omotola said investing in children's nutrition offers some of the greatest opportunities for social and economic change in Africa, adding: “For every dollar invested in reducing stunting among children in Africa, there's a return on investment of $16 while also preventing nearly half of child mortality and increasing school attainment by at least one year.”
His comments come amid anger generated by a recent report by the World Poverty Clock and Brookings Institute that Nigeria has succeeded India as the world's poverty capital.
“When we invest heavily in nutrition, it makes children 33 percent more likely to escape poverty as adults,” he added.
Olumide Osanyinpeju, head of Nigeria’s Child Rights Information Bureau (CRIB) of the Information and Culture Ministry, said improved nutrition is key to attaining national and human development but can only be achieved when citizens are aware of the dangers of malnutrition.
“Addressing nutrition is one of the ways through which sustainable development goals can be achieved, therefore investment in nutrition will help reduce the negative trend of malnutrition,” he added.
He said the dialogue event was meant to “reduce malnutrition among infants and children, adolescents and women of reproductive age; to significantly reduce micronutrient deficiency disorders, especially among vulnerable groups; and to increase the knowledge of nutrition among the populace and nutrition education into formal and informal
The experts called for investment to ensure food security and end extreme hunger by 2030, the second goal of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
Nigeria faces what experts called a national emergency on malnutrition, with at least half of children in the insurgency-wracked northeast either affected by stunting or wasting -- both of them representing various stages of malnutrition with dire consequences for the child mortality rate and ability to make headway in life.