Date: Mon, 28 Sep 1998 13:16:52 -0400 (EDT)
Malnutrition stunts growth of generation
By Jenny Grant, South China Morning Post, Thursday 24 sep 1998
The mental and physical growth of a generation of children is under threat as Indonesia's economic crisis worsens.
More than half the children under two years old in Java, the most populous island, were suffering from malnutrition, Unicef, the UN Children's Fund, said yesterday.
And the number of children under three in Java suffering severe malnutrition has risen from one in 12 two years ago to one in seven this year, according to a study by the charity Helen Keller International.
The Government said malnutrition and other health problems had risen rapidly in line with rising food prices exacerbated by the plunge in the value of the rupiah.
Inflation is running at 70 per cent. The Keller study found anaemia in children below three years of age had risen by half in two years, and now affected 60 per cent of Java's children, while diarrhoea rates doubled in women and children in Central Java.
Stephen Woodhouse, Unicef's country representative in Indonesia, said malnutrition in early childhood was "particularly important" because that was when the brain developed. "No matter what you do after that age you cannot recoup that mental potential" if you have lost it through lack of nutrition, said Mr Woodhouse. The high malnourishment and diarrhoea rates will push up rates of disease and child mortality.
Diarrhoea already kills 60,000 five-year-olds in Indonesia annually. "Malnourishment contributes to diarrhoea and vice versa. If you're malnourished you may die," said Mr Woodhouse. The study also found women and children in the eastern islands of Sulawesi and Kalimantan ate only half the amounts of protein-rich eggs and milk that they were eating two years ago.
Dr Dini Latief, head of community nutrition at the Department of Health, said: "We have malnutrition due to low purchasing power. "Mothers have no choice to buy food because their incomes are very low."
Dr Latief said eight million children under five suffered malnourishment ranging from mild to severe. "Their intake only meets 75 to 80 per cent of their daily energy requirement of 1,200 to 1,600 calories, " she said. "Sometimes kids look healthy, they go to school and run around, but when we weigh them they come in well below weight for their age," said the Government's top nutritionist. Dr Latief warned the long-term effects would be stunted growth, wasting and slow learning.
She said the Government had set up a crisis centre in Jakarta to respond rapidly to reports of acute malnourishment and was also trying to feed primary school children with high-protein biscuits in classrooms.
The Minister of Food, A. M. Saefuddin, last week said 17 million Indonesians were facing severe food shortages. He said in Central and East Java 4.4 million families could only afford one meal a day.
Speaking yesterday in the central Java village of Kuwaren, anthropologist Adriani Sumampouw said conditions in the villages where she does her research were severe.
"There are no funds for education and hardly enough to eat. They are just eating small amounts of rice with sauce, a dry biscuit or some cassava."