Poverty and hunger have been identified as the major factors responsible for the continuous increase in the number of malnourished children in Nigeria.
The United Nations Children’s fund (UNICEF) said Nigeria is off the track in achieving Sustainable Development Goals 2 (SDG2 2030) as the country now has the highest number of malnourished children in Africa and second in the world.
UNICEF Nutrition Officer, Nkeiru Enwelum at a media dialogue in Enugu, explained that a concerted effort in delivery of high impact nutrition intervention will help children escape stunting and that such children are 33% more likely to escape poverty as adults.
The media dialogue on SDGs as Child Rights with special focus on malnutrition was organised by Child Rights Information Bureau of the Federal Ministry of Information and Culture in collaboration with UNICEF.
While quoting the Nigeria Health Demographic Survey(NHDS) of 2018, Enwelum said child malnutrition showed that stunting was at 37%, wasting, a form of acute malnutrition was at 6.8%.
On the Nutrition and Food insecurity in Nigeria, NHDS data revealed that the average annual rate of reduction for stunting was only 0.4% points per year, adding that 14.5 million people suffered from Acute Food Insecurity in the country.
“The first 1000 days of life is critical window of opportunity for nutrition- from conception to the child second birthday.
“That period is critical period of opportunity of the window to implement high impact nutrition intervention in a child’s life in other to prevent malnutrition, to prevent mortality, to ensure the child grows well, and reverser trend of malnutrition.”
UNICEF communication specialist, Geoffrey Njoku warned that malnutrition should not be treated as a northern problem. According to him, doing so could deny children suffering from malnutrition in the south the relevant interventions.
Expert from Enugu State University of Science and Technology, Chidi Ezinwa at the dialogue expressed concerns that Nigeria may continue to lag behind in achieving nutrition targets and the overall SDG goals.
“We are making a backward movement. In 2019 we were ranked 159th, in 2020 we were ranked 160th, but before that time, there was no crisis in different parts of the country,” he said.
“ Now that we have this crisis situation, it is reasonable to think that malnutrition will be on the increase because you can’t separate conflict form malnutrition and hunger. Given the situation, we are not likely to make any progress.”
Ezinwa stressed that SDGs cannot be realised without recognising and fulfilling the rights of children. The expert however regretted that rising poverty and hunger were denying children of some of their basic rights, such as right to quality healthcare and education, among others.
The expert disclosed that more than 70 percent of Nigerian children lived in poverty and 23.3 percent live in extreme poverty.
“The SDG index shows that many rights of children are yet to be fulfilled in Nigeria. Hence, Nigeria is far from realising the SDGs . Children are not objects, rather they are human beings and individuals with their own rights. A sustainable future depends on how we meet the needs of children and young people.”