40% of Zambian Children Stunted From Malnutrition

Sheila is 10-years-old and lives with her aged grandmother, Loveness, in Zambia. They have no other family. Sheila gets a free school meal daily but during the holiday times, she may not eat for the whole day. With little money for food and being too old to work, Loveness has few accessible resources. Before, seasonal fruits used to grow in the wild and Sheila and Loveness would be able to forage for those. Yet, since the drought started earlier this year, local produce has been grossly affected, with many struggling to find the food sources they used to rely on. For now, Sheila and Loveness can only depend on emergency relief and support from neighbours.

Sheila is just one of the children that Zambia Orphans Aid UK (ZOA-UK) has helped over the years. In 2018, the non-profit supported 2,000 orphans and vulnerable children by bolstering their education, environment, and nutrition. One of the things the organisation does is to provide free meals in community schools like the one that Sheila attends.

Katy Dore, Executive Director of ZOA-UK explained, “Stunting is the result of chronic malnutrition, usually associated with poor socioeconomic conditions, poor maternal health and nutrition, frequent illness and/or inappropriate infant and young child feeding and care in early life. Unlike acute malnutrition, chronic malnutrition is irreversible and can affect not just physical development but cognitive development as well. The effects of stunting can last a lifetime and can even affect the next generation.”

According to US Aid, malnutrition is a major burden on the Zambian health care system and contributes to low human capital. Nationally, 40 per cent of children under the age of 5 suffer from chronic malnutrition, which results in stunting or low height. It is highest (54 per cent) amongst children in the 18–23 months age group.

“Some action is being taken but drought and economic problems are reducing the progress that has been made, especially on children under five. For many complex reasons more people are now depending on the government to support them but the government lacks the resources to be able to reach everyone,” added Dore.

Following erratic rains and prolonged dry spells this year, Zambia currently faces its worst food shortage in over a decade, with many families – who already live in abject poverty – going hungry. In rural Zambia, a shocking 83 percent of people live below the poverty line – most of whom do not have adequate income to meet their basic food requirements.

Many impoverished households, therefore, are reliant on being able to grow their food as a supplement to their meagre incomes. Yet, since the horrific climate change, crops that have been essential to their survival have dwindled. As such, inflation in food prices leaves many even more unable to afford to buy food. Families are frequently forced to take their children out of school as they do not have the necessary means to pay for both the costs of education and food at the same time.

“Families shouldn’t have to decide whether to feed their children or send them to school,” Dore insisted. “Right now, in the Southern Province, we’re seeing a desperate need to provide food rations to all vulnerable families, so that no child goes hungry and families aren’t forced to take their children out of school.

“There is a desperate need to provide food rations to households to ensure that no child goes hungry.”

Since many households do not earn enough to meet their basic cost of living, many families continue to be affected by starvation and the issue of malnutrition amongst young children persists. Although emergency relief supplies and charities offer support, countless communities that are affected are still not being reached.

ZOA-UK has launched an emergency appeal to provide food and nutrition to the children and their families most affected by the drought in Southern Province. Dore believes that complex issues are underlying the hunger situation, as well as the unequal distribution of supplies.

To further exacerbate the situation, Zambia also ranks among those that are most affected by the HIV and AIDS virus in Sub-Saharan Africa. The antiretroviral treatment for the illness does not work on an empty stomach, making it even more crucial for people to receive sufficient food. It is a dilemma that is systematic of many of the social and economic issues that the country now faces. Poorer families remain the most vulnerable and the implementation of aid is not at a scale large enough to spread across all the areas that need it.