Stunted children have a higher grade repetition rate. In Egypt, grade repetition cost the country 271 million Egyptian Pounds. Copyright: WFP/Laure Melo
CAIRO - Egypt lost an estimated 20.3 billion Egyptian pounds (US$3.7 billion) or 1.9 percent of Gross Domestic Product in 2009 as a result of child undernutrition, according to a study launched today in Cairo.
The Cost of Hunger in Africa: The Social and Economic Impact of Child Undernutrition in Egypt report measures the losses to the Egyptian economy caused by child undernutrition, particularly the effects of stunting or chronic malnutrition.
Stunting (low-height-for-age) results when children miss out on critical nutrients including proteins, vitamins and minerals, while in the womb or in the first five years of life. People affected by stunting are more likely in later life to be sickly, to perform poorly at school, repeat classes or drop out altogether, to be less productive at work and to die early.
The report shows that the country loses significant sums of money each year as a result of child undernutrition through increased healthcare costs, additional burdens to the education system and lower productivity.
According to the study, which used data from 2009 as the most recent complete set of records required to develop the study, 40 percent of adults in Egypt are stunted. This represents more than 20 million people of working age who are not able to achieve their potential, as a consequence of child undernutrition. In rural Egypt, where most people are engaged in manual activities, it is estimated that in 2009 alone, a value of 10.7 billion EGP of economic productivity was lost due to lower physical capacity by those who were stunted as children.
Illnesses linked to child undernutrition were also estimated to result in health costs equivalent to 1.2 billion EGP. Today, there are more stunted children in Egypt than 10 years ago, with data from Egypt’s Demographic Health Survey highlighting an upward trend in stunting between 2005 and 2008, reaching 28.9 percent amongst children under the age of five.
The study was undertaken in Egypt by the Cabinet’s Information and Decision Support Center (IDSC) in collaboration with the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP), the African Union Commission and the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA). Data vital to the development of the study was provided by the Central Agency for Public Mobilization and Statistics (CAPMAS), the Ministry of Health, and the Ministry of Education in Egypt.
“Food security is at the top of the agenda of the Egyptian government after the revolution of 25 January 2011. The provision of adequate and nutritious food for children is the most important aspect to ensure that children are healthy, able to learn, work and give back to society,” said the Head of the IDSC Dr. Yasser Ali. “Human capital is the backbone of Egypt's future development, especially since 31 percent of Egypt's total population is below the age of 15 years, which presents a human wealth that should be used well.”
These results are part of a 12-country study in Africa highlighting that undernutrition is not just a health issue, but an economic one as well.
“This study highlights the sizeable economic losses a country could incur due to child undernutrition, the consequences of which are often underestimated,” said WFP Egypt Representative and Country Director GianPietro Bordignon. “An urgent and systematic response is required, and WFP is committed to continuing to work alongside the Egyptian Government to prioritize undernutrition in the national development agenda.”
The findings strongly suggest that in order for Egypt to achieve sustainable human and economic growth, special attention must be given to the early stages of life, as the foundation of human capital. Without measures to combat and eliminate undernutrition, the cost to Egypt at current rates could increase by about 32 percent by 2025.
The IDSC will share the results and the recommendations of this study with decision-makers especially those that advise giving attention to child nutrition in Egypt and the consequences this has on health, education and productivity.
“The IDSC in its new role as a neutral national body is adopting a new vision for building the country that will contribute to coordinating and supporting these efforts to achieve its goals,” Dr. Ali said.
Bordignon also underlined the urgent need for increased investment in combatting undernutrition during a child’s first 1000 days, from conception to the age of two years.
Egypt is the second country on the continent, after Uganda, to carry out the Cost of Hunger in Africa study. 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, Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Malawi, Mauritania, Rwanda, Swaziland and Uganda.
The Cost of Hunger Africa study is funded by the Government of France, the African Development Bank and WFP.
Dr. Naaeym Saad Zaghlol, IDSC, Tel: 27929292 ext. 612, Mob: +2 010 05105 522
Nermine Wally, WFP/Cairo, Tel. +202 2528 1730 ext. 4480