WFP And UNICEF To Scale Up Nutrition To Fight Child Stunting In Southern And Eastern Africa

Published on 18 January 2011

JOHANNESBURG – The United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) and United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) agreed today to work together to reduce levels of child stunting in Southern and Eastern Africa and accelerate progress toward achieving the UN Millennium Development Goals by 2015.

UNICEF Eastern and Southern Africa Regional Director Elhadj As Sy and WFP Southern, Eastern and Central Africa Regional Director Mustapha Darboe signed an agreement setting the twin goals as joint priorities while also noting that considerable progress has already been made to address nutritional factors that compromise young children’s health.

“We’re working together to address the scourge of child stunting caused by nutritional deprivation between birth and the age of two years,” said Darboe. “It’s shocking to note that there are twice as many stunted children in the region as the number of underweight children.”

Stunting (low height for age) indicates nutritional deprivation early in life – from conception up to two years of age. Unlike underweight, which is a composite of both stunting and wasting (low weight for height), stunting past the age of two is irreversible, and has long-term debilitating effects: Children who are stunted are at greater risk of illness and death. It is estimated that countries lose over three percent of their GDP through the effects of under-nutrition.

According to the latest data from UNICEF, the prevalence of stunting in the developing world has declined from 40 percent to 29 percent between 1990 and 2008, but the progress has been stagnant in Africa.  Over the same period, stunting in Africa has only been reduced from 38 percent to 34 percent. Of the 24 countries that account for 80 percent of the world’s stunting burden, seven are in the Eastern and Southern Africa region.

“Investing in child nutrition pays high dividends for a country’s social and national development,” said UNICEF’s As Sy. “Without action, billions of dollars in revenue will continue to be lost for the African nations experiencing the highest burdens of malnutrition. National nutritional strategies need to tackle not only the root causes of stunting, but also to target the most vulnerable children and their families – those in remote areas, or from the poorest and marginalized communities.”

Only 11 African countries are on track to reaching the Millennium Development Goal of halving the proportion of people suffering from hunger between 1990 and 2015. Of these 11 countries, only four – Mozambique, Botswana, Swaziland and Angola – are in Eastern and Southern Africa.

For further information:
Claudia Altorio, WFP/Johannesburg +27 11 517 1655, Mob. +27 82 908 1448
Kun Li, UNICEF/Nairobi, +254 20 7622218,
Shantha Bloemen, UNICEF/Johannesburg, +27 79 495 5938,