MBABANE - Swaziland loses some SZL 783 million (US$92 million) annually - as much as 3.1 per cent of its Gross Domestic Product (GDP) - due to the effects of undernutrition. This is the alarming conclusion of a new study entitled The Cost of Hunger in Africa (COHA), released in Swaziland today.
The COHA study in Swaziland was led by the National Children's Coordination Unit in the Deputy Prime Minister's Office (NCCU/DPMO) with support from the Ministry of Economic Planning and Development, Ministry of Health, Ministry of Agriculture, Ministry of Education, Ministry of Finance, Swaziland National Nutrition Council (SNNC), University of Swaziland and the World Food Programme Swaziland. It underscores that undernutrition is not just a health issue, but an economic concern as well.
Using data from 2009, the study measures the losses to the Swazi economy caused by child undernutrition, in particular the effects of stunting or chronic malnutrition. Stunting, or being short-for-age, is a result of a failure to receive adequate nutrients including proteins, vitamins and minerals, while in the womb or in the first years of life. People affected by stunting are more likely in later life to be sickly, to perform poorly at school or drop out of classes, to be less productive at work and to die early.
Among other findings, the following were demonstrated by the study:
• The study estimates that Swaziland could reduce losses associated to undernutrition by SZL 511 million (US$60 million) by 2025 if it reduces underweight rates to 5 percent and stunting to 10 percent.
• Treating diarrhoea, anaemia, respiratory infections and other clinical conditions related to malnutrition cost Swaziland 61 million SZL (US$6 million) in one year.
• Average schooling achievement for a person who was stunted as a child is 0.77 years lower than for a person who was never undernourished.
• Twelve per cent of all repetitions in school are associated with stunting. This corresponds to 5,550 additional cases of grade repetition in which the education system and families incurred a cost of SZL 6 million (US$ 701,000).
• Forty percent of adults in Swaziland are stunted. This represents more than 270,000 people of working age who are not able to achieve their potential as a consequence of child undernutrition. In manual activities, the associated loss is estimated at SZL 126 million (US$ 14.8 million) of potential productivity not realized. In non-manual activities, where the losses are associated with lower schooling achievement, the economic losses are estimated at SZL 251 million (US$29.5 million) in a single year.
• An estimated 37 million working hours were lost in 2009 as a result of people who were absent from the workforce as a result of nutrition-related deaths. This represents SZL 340 million (US$40 million), which is equivalent to 1.4 percent of the country’s GDP.
The Honourable Minister of Economic Planning and Development of the Kingdom of Swaziland, Prince Hlangusemphi, stressed the alarming outcome of the study, as eradicating hunger and child undernutrition is a tangible and urgent goal for Swaziland.
““I want to commend this project. It is an eye-opener, and it needs to be encouraged.” he said. “We know we don’t have the means to change it all overnight but we are doing a lot”
Swaziland was the fourth country on the continent to carry out the Cost of Hunger in Africa study. Findings from the three other pilot countries, launched in June, indicated that Egypt lost US$3.7 billion (1.9 percent of GDP), Ethiopia lost US$4.7 billion (16.5 percent of GDP), and Uganda lost US$899 million (5.6 percent of GDP), as a result of undernutrition in the study year.
The research is being conducted in a total of 12 African countries, using a methodology originally applied in Latin America with the support of WFP. The 11 other countries are: Botswana, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Egypt, Ethiopia, Ghana, Malawi, Mauritania, Kenya, Rwanda, and Uganda.
The study was conducted by the Government of Swaziland with the support of the African Union Commission (AUC) including New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD), the UN Economic Commission for Africa (ECA) and the UN World Food Programme (WFP). The study was funded by the Government of France, the African Development Bank and WFP.
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