Despite sustained levels of high economic growth, most people in Cambodia are still eating rice at every meal, with little meat, fish or vegetables, meaning undernutrition will remain high and stunting common among children if the government does not scale up targeted health programs, a new report says.
Undernutrition remains stubbornly high in the country, anti-poverty group RESULTS contends in the report, titled Undernutrition in the Land of Rice.
The group is calling on the government to recognise that “expenditure on reducing undernutrition is an investment” in the country’s future, given that the cost of malnutrition has been estimated at $419 million annually.
They want the government to spend more of its own funds instead of relying almost wholly on donors.
“One thing that has been made really clear to us is that even if national economic performance is really, really strong, and Cambodia’s has been for a relatively long period of time now, it does not directly improve the nutrition of children,” Samantha Chivers, nutrition head at RESULTS Australia, said yesterday.
The report says domestic financing for nutrition programs is “worryingly low”, and while the government has prepared a new National Strategy for Food Security and Nutrition (NSFSN) for 2014-2018, it is yet to be fully priced or implemented.
Sok Silo, deputy director-general of the Council for Agricultural and Rural Development, said the government would likely be spending more in coming years, given that the NSFSN will soon be launched.
“I think the trend is to increase the budget for nutrition . . . [Because] without the increased budget on nutrition, we cannot scale up. [But] now the government has decided to scale up already, so we hope that the government will [direct] more funds to nutrition,” he said. “But we cannot work alone, we need partnership with development partners and NGOs.”
According to RESULTS, one long-neglected area has been the link between water, sanitation and hygiene, and stunting. In Cambodia, 58 per cent of people still defecate in the open, polluting water sources and making children sick.
“Even if you are eating the right food, if you are constantly flushing it out with diarrhoea and needing that extra kick of nutrition – that’s not helping you grow,” Chivers said.
According to Silo, the NSFSN will see the government focusing on this area, in addition to items used in the fortification of staple foods, such as soy and fish sauce. Cash and food vouchers will also be provided to the rural poor and women to buy nutritious food.
A nutrition action and investment plan will be completed later this year, he added.