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Rising malnutrition accompanies increasing joblessness

[Botswana] In Botswana, an 8-year-old boy holds his younger brother outside a drop-in center for orphaned children in the village of Molepolole, 50 kilometers west of Gaborone.
The early warning unit pointed to rising malnutrition in impoverished areas (UNICEF/Giacomo Pirozzi)

Botswana's health authorities are battling climbing malnutrition rates among young children, despite sustained economic growth in recent years.

A recent report by the National Early Warning Unit in the Ministry of Agriculture showed a dramatic decline since April this year in the nutritional status of children under five years in the northeastern districts of Kgalagadi North, and Mabutsane and Gantsi in the west.

The Kgalagadi North district had the highest incidence - 12.1 percent - of "severe to complete malnutrition". The child growth-failure rate of 17 percent was also high, and reported to be increasing. The south-central district of Bobirwa recorded a growth-failure rate of 13.5 percent.

On the other hand, the more affluent diamond-mining centre of Jwaneng had the lowest incidence of malnutrition, with only 0.2 percent of children found to be suffering deficiencies. The survey also revealed a low incidence of malnutrition in Gaborone, the capital city.

The early warning unit attributed the high rates of malnutrition in the affected areas to the low economic status of households and the neglect of children by their parents and guardians.

Tebogo Makhale, secretary-general of the Botswana Federation of Trade Unions, pointed to growing joblessness as the main catalyst for rising malnutrition among children.

"Most families now find maintaining a healthy diet too costly. With declining incomes, even those with employed guardians will soon be unable to feed themselves. The government should strive to create conditions that empower families and communities to work, or somehow provide for themselves adequately," Makhale told IRIN.

Efforts to get a comment from health officials were fruitless, but an official in the health ministry said the authorities were considering the findings of the report. She added that plans were underway to address the nutritional needs of vulnerable populations.

This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions

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