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Hunger Costs Ethiopian Economy Billions Of Dollars

  • Lisa Schlein

A mother quenches her child's thirst while waiting for food handouts at a health center in drought-stricken remote Somali region of Eastern Ethiopia, also known as the Ogaden, July 9, 2011.

A mother quenches her child's thirst while waiting for food handouts at a health center in drought-stricken remote Somali region of Eastern Ethiopia, also known as the Ogaden, July 9, 2011.

Hunger costs Ethiopia billions of dollars in yearly economic losses, according to a new study. Led by the African Union Commission, the UN World Food Program (WFP) and Ethiopian government agencies, it says reducing undernutrition will save lives and boost Ethiopia's struggling economy.

The study shows Ethiopia lost an estimated $4.7 billion in 2009 because of child undernutrition. This is equivalent to 16.5 percent of the country's Gross Domestic Product.

Currently, the report finds more than two out of every five children in Ethiopia are stunted and more than 80 percent of all cases of child under-nutrition go untreated. It says malnutrition in Ethiopia causes more than 20 percent of child deaths. It says these deaths have reduced Ethiopia's workforce by eight percent.

Undernutrition is a huge drain on the country's economy, said WFP spokeswman Elizabeth Byrs.

"The study estimates that Ethiopia could reduce losses by $12.5 billion by 2025 if it reduces underweight rates to five percent and stunting to 10 percent," Byrs said.

Stunted children in primary education have a higher-grade repetition rate than non-stunted children, according to the report. In addition, it says stunted children in Ethiopia also are more likely to drop out of school.

Byrs noted stunting does not end with childhood, but remains a life-long problem with long-term consequences for both the individual and the society. The report says nearly 70 percent of adults in Ethiopia have suffered from stunting as children, which means more than 26 million people of working age have not been able to achieve their potential.

For example, adults who suffered from stunting as children are less likely to do heavy manual jobs because they tend to have lower body mass, resulting in a loss of income. The study said these adults have a high rate of absenteeism from their jobs.

The ramifications of undernutrition are so serious that the Ethiopian government recently launched a half-billion dollar National Nutrition Program to tackle this issue, said Byrs.

"The program of the government, in tight cooperation with WFP, will provide supplementary feeding and nutrition vitamins to young children since the pregnancy until the age of five to be sure during the first 1,000 days those children get sufficient nutriments and vitamins to avoid stunting," she said.

The program, which is due to last two-and-one half years, will also increase school feeding schemes. Byrs added support programs for pregnant and lactating women will be developed in health centers and hospitals.

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