Lahore: The World Bank approved on Friday US$47.95 million to help the Government of Pakistan improve nutrition status of children under two years of age, and of pregnant and lactating women in targeted areas.
“Enhanced Nutrition for Mothers and Children” will specifically target women and the relatively high proportion of stunting that occurs during pregnancy. It will support scaling-up of well proven maternal nutrition interventions for women of child-bearing age and sharpening the nutrition focus of ante-natal visits and provision of daily Iron Folic Acid supplementation during pregnancy.
All the provinces in Pakistan are facing challenges of malnutrition. Half of the children under five in Balochistan (52 percent) and in Sindh (50 percent) are stunted and these rates have worsened in these two provinces since 2001. Likewise, almost half (48 percent) of children in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) and 39 percent of children under five years in Punjab are stunted. While the project focuses initially on Sindh and Balochistan provinces, the aim is to enhance national coverage through coordination of support between Pakistan’s development partners.
“The nutritional status of children under five years is worse than the national average in Sindh and Balochistan”, says Rachid Benmessaoud, World Bank Country Director for Pakistan. “The project interventions will help the Governments of Sindh and Balochistan to focus on building capacity within the provincial Departments of Health for delivery of nutrition services in order to address chronic malnutrition.”
Although maternal and child health indicators have improved in Pakistan, significant challenges remain. The preliminary findings of the 2011 National Nutrition Survey revealed that the rates of child stunting have not changed in Pakistan since 1965. Pakistan has high rates of child malnutrition, with 44 percent of children being stunted and 22 percent severely stunted.
“Chronic malnutrition (i.e. stunting) in Pakistan manifests itself during the first thousand days, i.e. it starts during pregnancy and continues throughout the first two years of life”, says Dr. Inaam ul Haq, Program Leader for Social Inclusion. “There is strong evidence showing that the first 1000 days are most critical for addressing malnutrition because this is the segment of the life cycle when most of the damage to physical growth, brain development, and human capital formation occurs due to inadequate nutrition, and most of these losses are irreversible”.
The World Bank’s financial support consists of a credit from the International Development Association (IDA) of US$36.24 million to Sindh and a Grant from the Trust Fund for the Pakistan Partnership for Improved Nutrition, financed by the Department for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Australian Government and administered by the World Bank, in an amount of US$11.71 million to Balochistan.
The International Development Association (IDA) is the World Bank Group’s grant and low-interest arm. The credit will be on standard IDA terms, with a maturity of 25 years, including a grace period of 5 years.