PANAMA CITY 3 June 2007 – A new study has found that child undernutrition in Central America and the Dominican Republic in 2004 alone cost those economies US$6.7 billion – or
6.4 percent of the region’s entire Gross Domestic Product (GDP) – a burden that severely undermines international and national efforts to eradicate hunger and poverty.
The in-depth study, which was carried out by the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) and the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC), is the first of its kind in
the region. Its findings will be presented at a parallel event during the Organization of American States General Assembly in Panama today, attended by several heads of state and government, as
well as by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.
“This study is a wake up call to the international community that widespread child hunger is not only a moral and humanitarian issue, but it has economic consequences as well,” said
WFP Executive Director Josette Sheeran. “Clearly, we will not be able to eradicate poverty in the region or in the world for that matter, until we take effective steps to tackle hunger
“Undernutrition has very serious long-term costs, which are not limited to an individual’s life-cycle given the impact on intrauterine growth during pregnancy of malnourished
women,” said José Luis Machinea, ECLAC Executive Secretary. “This cycle will more probably be repeated in their offspring and poverty will be perpetuated generation after
generation if we don’t act to remedy the situation.”
The study calculates the effects of hunger and undernutrition on health, education and productivity and then estimates the costs which include increased health care and education needs as well
as decreased economic activity through lower productivity. It finds that 90 percent of the economic losses are caused by a higher incidence of mortality as a result of hunger-related illnesses
and lower educational levels.
The results of the study add to the growing urgency of efforts to eradicate undernutrition – measured in this case by weight for age – which results in irreparable physical and
mental damage in children.
According to the study, the cost of child undernutrition varies between 1.7 percent and 11.4 percent of GDP for individual countries. It’s expected that the country-by-country analyses
will be launched in the near future in the respective countries. In the region as a whole, there are 880,000 underweight children, representing 14 percent of children under five in Central
America and the Dominican Republic.
Last year, WFP provided food aid to more than 5.6 million people in ten countries in the Latin America and Caribbean region. These included more than 1.8 million children in Food-for-Education
programmes and over 850,000 mothers and children benefiting from maternal-child health and nutrition interventions.
The authors underlined that the study reflects the economic effects of not acting in a timely manner to deal with nutrition. At the same time, they noted that the blame for current levels of
undernutrition lies not with current governments but with decades of accumulated inaction.
“We know that the Latin American region produces three times the amount of food needed to feed its population,” said WFP Regional Director Pedro Medrano. “This means there are
grounds for hope, and an opportunity for governments and society to help children under age five to break the vicious cycle of poverty and hunger.”
“Any program that can effectively reduce the levels of undernutrition will not only improve the quality of life of those affected, but will also increase productivity,” Machinea
added. “The larger the problem the bigger the challenge, while at the same time the potential benefits to a country’s productive capacity stands to be greater.”