How the global food crisis is hurting children

[The impact of the food price hike on a rural community in northern Bangladesh]

The global food crisis is expected to push the
number of undernourished people in the world
to more than one billion in 2009. Inevitably, children
will be particularly affected by this crisis and will
be overrepresented in this statistic. As a result,
progress towards reaching both Millennium
Development Goals (MDGs) 1 and 4 will be in
jeopardy. The response to this global disaster has
been relatively slow, and at times the best way
forward has been unclear. Both the cause and the
impact of food price rises are complex, and without
a good understanding of these complexities,
identifying effective solutions will continue to
be a challenge.
In November 2008, Save the Children UK
undertook research to examine how this crisis
affected different sectors of a rural community
in northern Bangladesh. Using extensive data
collected before prices started to rise, and at the
end of the peak of the crisis,we were able to
identify the impact of the escalation of food prices
on household income and children’s nutrition.
The most striking finding from this assessment is
that, while the richest households benefited from
the price rise, between 32% and 50% of households
in this community had a lower disposable income
in 2008 than before the crisis. The increase in rice
prices explained most of this drop in income,
whereas the failure of one of the rice harvests in
2007/08 had a minor impact on the poorest families.
Furthermore, the percentage of households unable
to afford a diet that meets energy requirements
doubled. Poorest families were even less able to
afford a diet that would have provided the macro
and micronutrients essential for good health and
nutrition. Children from the poorest households
received fewer meals per day, had less diverse diets,
and were less likely to be given highly nutritious
foods. The detrimental impact of poverty on
nutritional status was evident: there were twice
as many chronically malnourished children in the
poorest households than in the richest. There was
also an indication that a potential 7 percentage
point drop in chronic malnutrition may have been
lost as a result of conditions experienced in the last
two years, with permanent consequences for the
mental and physical development of children.
Families in this community employed a number of
potentially damaging strategies in response to the
price rises, including sending children to work,
taking children out of school, selling productive
assets and reducing food intake. Commonly, poor
families used loans to replace or supplement
income, and previous research carried out in
the region showed that they prioritised repaying
loans over investing in livelihoods or more
diverse diets.
Interventions put in place at national level to deal
with the food price crisis need to take into account
the complexity of local economies, including the fact
that, as shown in this assessment, only a relatively
small proportion of rural populations benefit from
increased prices and agricultural output. Investment
in agricultural production must be complemented
by policies and programmes to protect the extreme
poor, and to allow the poor who do not benefit
from agricultural development to maintain
their standard of living. There are several social
protection mechanisms in place in Bangladesh, and
these are likely to be crucial for protecting these
vulnerable households. However, it may be useful
to examine whether eligible households and
individuals are actually benefiting from these
schemes. It is crucial to ensure that the schemes
are responsive to crises, in order to protect the
poorest households.
Finally, it is imperative to monitor the impact on
communities (and on child growth) of food price
rises and the global economic crisis. Appropriate
responses to these shocks can only be put in place if
we have a good understanding of who is being most
affected. Without this,we will continue to fail the
millions of children worldwide who were already
living with hunger, as well as the millions more who
have joined their ranks since this crisis hit.

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How the global food crisis is hurting children381.87 KB
Date and language
Jan 2009

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FPMU Documentation Center

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