Today, we in the GCC find ourselves uniquely positioned at the forefront of the drive to end poverty and child malnutrition. Much progress has been made in this direction around the globe, owing partly to our participation in coordinated efforts in-country and the strong advocacy of the United Nations and its organic UN Development Programme. Halfway toward the 2015 cut-off for the Millennium Development Goals, however, much remains to be done. And over and above attending to the crying need of our own young children, it appears we are called to step up because the leading industrialised donor-countries are caught in the throes of a recession for which there is as yet no end in sight.
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At the turn of the millennium, we were among the 189 country-signatories committed to eradicating extreme poverty and hunger, and to reducing child mortality. That is because we believed strongly in reducing the sad prevalence of underweight children under five years of age. We were also convinced about the urgency of halving mortality rate among infants and very young children because many such deaths are preventable with proper maternal care and infant nutrition.
And yet, what has been accomplished in the first eight years of the MDG period? Throughout the Middle East and Africa, going by WHO Child Growth Standards published in 2006, the incidence of young children under five years being moderately or severely underweight was lower than the world average (36% versus 50%). Still, that is one-third of young children who already start life with a disadvantage. Within the GCC, the evidence of such malnutrition ranges from a low of 9% in Kuwait to an awful 73% in Oman. But the caveat here, according to the WHO, is that we have our work cut out for us adhering to globally-accepted definitions of weight status, gathering the information more regularly and extending the assessment of child weight status from the capital and key cities to all parts of our respective nations.
At the extreme, about 13% of young children in the Middle East and North Africa are so malnourished the WHO classifies them ‘stunted’ or ‘wasting’. While this proportion differs little from the average of 11% around the world, Yemen (27% of children under 5 years either ‘stunted’ or ‘wasting’) and even the UAE (18%) clearly have it worse.
To the south of us, sub-Saharan Africa stretches out wasted arms begging for sustenance for the children of today least tomorrow’s generation waste away. For seventeen years, up to 2006, the 27 countries in that region have failed to stem the tide of childhood deaths even 1 percent. And this is on top of the present adult generation being decimated by AIDS.
Worldwide, the crisis of preventable childhood deaths is so severe the UNDP is pleased to even report that deaths among young children finally inched below the ten million mark in 2006.
So as we turn our attention to the conference programme and today’s learned presentations, let us bear in mind that our young children now will be the inheritors of the sustainable development we launched against the day when petroleum can no longer be relied on. But let us also heed the piteous weeping of other children around the region and those of our brethren to the south. On that note, I bid you welcome and good day!
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