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A REPORT CARD ON NUTRITION: NUMBER 4, MAY 2006 View Previous Editions>


Nutrition and conflict
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Six countries of the Middle East/North Africa region are not on course to meet the MDG target.

Child underweight prevalence in Algeria, Egypt and Morocco is 10 per cent or lower, but progress since 1990 has been insufficient and needs to be stepped up. In Iraq, Sudan and Yemen, the proportions of children underweight are actually higher than in the early 1990s.

Middle East/North Africa

The good news in the Middle East/North Africa is that six countries are on track to meet the MDG target. Moreover, 12 countries have underweight prevalence rates of 10 per cent or below.  But the proportion of underweight children increased during 1990–2004. Regional statistics have been dragged down by children’s plight in three populous countries: Iraq, Sudan and Yemen.

Forty-six per cent of Yemeni children are underweight, an estimated 53 per cent of under-fives are stunted and 32 per cent of babies are born with low weight. In Sudan, where civil war has affected children’s nutritional status, 41 per cent of children are underweight and 31 per cent of babies are born with low weight. Sudan has the highest regional proportion of wasted children (16 per cent) and only 1 per cent of households consume iodized salt.

In Iraq, the proportion of children underweight and the under-five mortality rate are still substantially higher than in 1990 (2000 data). Exclusive breastfeeding is low and a legacy of poor feeding practices remains.

The Occupied Palestinian Territory (OPT), the Syrian Arab Republic and Tunisia are the fastest-improving countries. OPT has reduced underweight prevalence on average 5.3 per cent per year, and along with Jordan and Qatar, has reduced its prevalence of stunting to less than 10 per cent. Tunisia has achieved universal salt iodization.

Including Iraq, Sudan and Yemen, six countries are not on course to meet the MDG . Underweight prevalence in Algeria, Egypt and Morocco is 10 per cent or lower, an insufficient rate of progress.

The presumption that undernutrition will improve with economic growth and development is not always accurate. Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates, for example, have high gross national incomes per capita but have the same or higher rates of wasting as low-income Yemen.

Children in rural areas of the region are 1.7 times more likely to be underweight than those in urban areas; and children living in the poorest households are more than twice as likely to be underweight as children living in the richest households.28


28  UNICEF analysis of underweight prevalence by place of residence and household asset quintile, based on survey data.