By Christian Salazar Volkmann, UNICEF Representative in Iran
Improving nutrition, particularly in the early years of a child’s life, is a crucial step in meeting the Millennium Development Goals. Healthy nutrition helps eradicate extreme poverty and hunger, reduces child mortality and is the basis of achieving good health and education. As stated in the Convention on the Rights of the Child, it is also every child’s right to enjoy the highest attainable standard of health and nutrition.
Nutrition is one of the most important development challenges of our time and constitutes a crisis that receives neither the attention nor the resources it deserves.
In a UNICEF report published today, it is estimated that almost six million children under the age of five around the world die of causes related to poor nutrition every year. Progress for Children: A Report Card on Nutrition says, in addition, one out of every four children under age five – or 146 million children in the developing world – is underweight for his or her age and at increased risk of an early death. This is proof, according to UNICEF, that the world is failing children.
While nationwide indicators in Iran tend to be on target, disparities exist, particularly in the provinces of Kerman and Sistan and Baluchistan where there are higher percentages of children born underweight. According to Iran’s Ministry of Health, 11% of children from Kerman province are born underweight; in Sistan and Baluchistan that rate rises to 16%.
Poor nutrition, particularly in children, is a challenge to humanity, preventing individuals and even whole societies from achieving their full potential. Children who are undernourished have lowered resistance to infection and are more likely to die from common childhood ailments such as diarrhoeal diseases and respiratory infections. Those who survive may be locked in a vicious cycle of recurring sickness and faltering growth, often with irreversible damage to their cognitive and social development.
Parents and governments that ensure good nutrition for children, particularly when they are small, are setting the conditions for the full realization of the human potential of society. The first two years of life are a critical window of opportunity to safeguard children’s future potential. Approximately 100 billion brain cells of a new born infant proliferate, connect with each other and establish the brain capacities of a life time. In the first 36 months, children develop the ability to think and speak, learn and reason and lay the foundation for their values and social behaviors as adults. This process, and therefore the future intellectual capacity of the person, depends largely on whether he or she has been well nourished as a child.
Good nutrition has strong economic implications too. When populations are well nourished, higher individual productivity, lower health care costs and greater economic output will ensue.
UNICEF Iran has developed a model for community-based nutrition involving Nutritional Counselling Centres. These centres provide training, facilities and education materials for mothers, health workers and volunteers. UNICEF has also provided micro-feeders for flour fortification in Kerman province, together with a year’s supply iron and folic acid supplements.
UNICEF’s Progress for Children: A Report Card on Nutrition is available at UNICEF’s Information Resource Centre in Tehran. To get a copy please contact Naser Ghobadzadeh on (021) 2259 4994