The Egyptian economy has lost $3.7 billion (Dh13.58 billion) in 2009 due to child malnutrition and stunted growth.
That was the conclusion of a recent UN study. Entitled, “The Cost of Hunger in Africa; the Social and Economic Impact of Child Under nutrition in Egypt ” the study measures the losses to the economy caused by child under nurishment, especially the effects of growth stunting and chronic malnutrition.
“The study shows the problem in figures, so governments would have a strong motivation to take action,” said Reem Nada, regional press officer at the UN World Food Programme (WFP). “When we speak of hunger or stunting, people don’t think it is an important problem. That is why it is important to see how much a country loses because of that problem,” she added to Gulf News.
For example, there were 79,000 cases of students repeating their classes in 2009, costing the government nearly 271 million Egyptian pounds ($ 38.73 million), she noted.
Another example in the study, which was also based on data received from 2009, the most recent complete set of records, is related to children’s health.
“40 per cent of adults in Egypt are stunted,” the study concluded. “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 Egyptian pounds ($ 1.53 billion) of economic productivity was lost due to lower physical capacity by those who were stunted as children.”
Illnesses linked to child under nutrition were also estimated to result in health costs equivalent to 1.2 billion Egyptian pounds ($ 170 million), the study concluded.
“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 per cent amongst children under the age of five,” the study said.
Stunting, which the UN defines as low height for age, results when children miss out on critical nutrients including proteins, vitamins and minerals, and this starts from the womb or in the first five years of life.
People affected by stunting are more likely to get sick in the future, perform poorly at school, repeat classes or drop out altogether.
They are also less productive at work and could die earlier. “The losses the government is incurring in the health and education sectors could be reversed should the issue of malnutrition among children be treated at early age, because this problem cannot be treated when people grow up,” said Reem.
On the other hand, Egyptian officials commented on the study by stressing “food security is at the top of the agenda of the Egyptian government after January 25, 2011 revolution.
Yasser Ali, former head of the IDSC, said: “Human capital is the backbone of Egypt’s future development, especially since 31 per cent of Egypt’s total population is below the age of 15, which presents a human wealth that should be used well.”
The study was conducted by the Cabinet’s Information and Decision Support Centre (IDSC), in cooperation with the WFP, the African Union Commission and the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (Uneca).
Egypt’s study was part of a 12-country study in Africa to highlight that under nutrition is a health and economic issue, a UN statement noted.
The study, which is being financed by the Government of France, the African Development Bank and WFP, will also include Botswana, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Malawi, Mauritania, Rwanda and Swaziland.
Uganda was the first to carry out the study. The results were announced late last month. It was concluded that the African country loses 1.8 trillion Ugandan shillings ($ 694.8 million) annually - as much as 5.6 per cent of its Gross Domestic Product - due to the effects of malnutrition.
Treating diarrhoea, anaemia, respiratory infections and other clinical conditions related to malnutrition cost 526 billion Ugandan shillings ($ 203 million). Losses in productivity reached 417 billion Ugandan shillings ($ 161 million) in manual sectors, such as agriculture, and 241 billion Ugandan shillings ($93 million) in non-manual activities, due to lower educational levels.
In the educational sector, the study estimated that 7 per cent of all repetitions in school are associated with stunting.
This represented 134,000 repetitions for an estimated cost of 20 billion Ugandan shillings ($ 7.72 million), for the government and the families.
“These are extremely worrying findings,” Prime Minister Amama Mbabazi, whose office participated in the study, was quoted as saying. “They will guide the Government of Uganda towards adopting policies that prevent unnecessary losses of human and economic potential.”