UN Issues Warning Concerning the Uncontrolled Level of Child Undernourishment in Ecuador
By Dialogo January 22, 2009The director of the UN World Food Program (WFP) in Ecuador, Helmut Rauch, issued a warning today concerning the uncontrolled level of child undernourishment in Ecuador. “It is unjustifiable that a medium-income country as Ecuador has such a terrible child undernourishment problem,” said Rauch in an interview with EFE in Geneva. According to the WFP, after Guatemala, Honduras, and Bolivia, Ecuador is the Latin American country with the fourth worst child undernourishment rate. Currently 26% of the Ecuadorian child population from zero to five years old is affected by chronic undernourishment. This situation is worse in rural areas, where the rate reaches 35.7% of all children, and it is more critical among aboriginals, with rates above 40%. “The first 24 months of life are essential to the physical and mental development of the child. If such development is affected, the damage caused to the brain is irreversible, and will affect the child for the rest of child’s life,” said the WFP expert. “The worst thing is undernourishment’s vicious circle, since an undernourished child will have fewer opportunities. As a result, undernourished people will be less developed, and will have diminished resources to offer their children,” said Rauch. Therefore, the WFP director paraphrased a common saying among the humanitarians that expresses the importance of prevention: “Acute undernourishment is a death sentence; chronic undernourishment is a life sentence.” “We consider undernourishment to be the spearhead of poverty. Combating undernourishment is possible; combating poverty is harder,” said the German expert. According to the UN, if chronic undernourishment rates dropped 5%, global poverty rates would be reduced by 20%. According to data provided by the Ecuadorian government, 12.8% of the Ecuadorian population suffers from extreme poverty. In rural areas, rates rise to 49%; among aboriginals rates reach 53%. The illiteracy rate for the entire country is 9%; in rural areas is 17%, and among aboriginals it rises to 28%. “Unfortunately, the illiteracy rate among aboriginal women rises to 40%.” However, Rauch considers that Rafael Correa’s current government is doing what is needed to mitigate the situation. “The new Constitution stresses the struggle against child undernourishment, and malnutrition such as teenage obesity. The aims of the WFP and the current government are completely compatible,” Rauch said. In 2004, the Ecuadorian government decided to take over all nutritional programs and combat malnutrition in the country. Since then, the WFP has been limited to technical assessment tasks, logistics, and acting in emergency cases. Furthermore, in collaboration with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and UNICEF, the WFP implements a program that supports and assists Colombian refugees who have crossed the border and find themselves on Ecuadorian soil.