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Food prices tax urban poor

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AFP

A young boy stands outside his home in a central Phnom Penh slum. 

A NATIONAL survey conducted late last year indicates that rising food prices have fuelled an increase in acute malnutrition among poor children in urban areas.

The Cambodia Anthropometrics Survey, initial findings of which were made public two weeks ago by the National Institute of Statistics, found that acute malnutrition among poor urban children under the age of five had increased from 9.6 percent in 2005 to 15.9 percent in 2008.

Viorica Berdaga, chief of child survival and development at the United Nations Children's Fund, said via email Thursday that the increase in acute malnutrition among the urban poor "is large, likely to be significant, and very logical considering that high food prices have the largest effect on those that have to buy all of their food".

The survey also found that acute malnutrition among children under five had increased from 8.4 percent to 8.9 percent between 2005 and 2008. But Berdaga said the survey was designed to measure changes of at least two percentage points, meaning that this finding might not be statistically significant.

"It is possible that acute malnutrition has increased nationally over the last year, but we do not know this," Berdaga said. "What we can say with some confidence is that gains in acute malnutrition seen from 2000 to 2005 have stopped in 2008."

Berdaga said that if the results do, in fact, point to worsening child nutrition, then the Kingdom could have difficulty meeting Millennium Development Goal No 4: to reduce child mortality.

The mortality rate for children under five fell from 124 deaths per 1,000 live births in 1998 to 82 deaths in 2005, far surpassing the target of 105. The 2015 target is 65 deaths per 1,000 live births.

"If nutrition begins to worsen and if no action is taken to address malnutrition, it would be logical to expect child mortality might follow the same path," Berdaga said.

Unicef representative Richard Bridle said via email that the preliminary results of the survey were "not surprising" and that conditions were not likely to improve without a "concerted effort" to apply tested nutrition interventions, backed up with sufficient resources. 

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