Bangladesh's serious 'hidden hunger' problem

Bangladesh may have succeeded in ensuring basic food-grains availability, but hunger, as experts defines it, is still far from over.

Published : 29 March 2015, 09:32 AM
Updated : 29 March 2015, 09:32 AM

Two billion people — roughly two in every seven persons — worldwide are suffering from a specific kind of hunger and Bangladesh has its share of it.

Public health experts shared their concerns with over what is being called ‘hidden hunger’ caused by the deficit of ‘micronutrients'—vitamins and minerals needed in a very small amount to 'live and thrive', as John Hoddinot, Professor of Food and Nutrition Economics and Politics, Cornell University, puts it.

“Human beings need both energy (let’s think of this in terms of the calories one gets from eating foods like rice) and micronutrients.

"Lack of calories has obvious consequences; we see people grow thinner. But micronutrient deficiencies are not easy to see; hence the term hidden hunger.”

"Right food, right process, right preservation— missing this pivotal combination may make the battle against hunger a futile one", admits Taherul Islam, programme manager at government's National Nutrition Services.

To understand where Bangladesh government stands in terms of protecting people from micronutrient deficiency, we asked Rudaba Khondker working with Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition (GAIN) for opinion.

“The rate of malnutrition in Bangladesh is alarming.

"41 percent of children under five are stunted ... 36 percent are underweight."

“This, along with poverty, hinder access to education and the ability to learn”, says Khondker, a senior advisor on micronutrient supplements to the Geneva-based foundation.

These children will never be able to explore their full potential as stunting has long-term physical and neurological consequences affecting stature and cognition, she adds. 

“Turning the stunted child into a normal one increases the present value of their lifetime income by $2,311”, Hoddinot calculates.

Thus, spending on malnutrition — for government and non-government alike — makes sense, he said.

While Bangladesh, seeking to join the club of middle-income nations, has lifted itself from the 'Noon-pantha' stage, there are major gaps in nutrition one cannot overlook.

Fifty percent of the salt produced in Bangladesh is not adequately iodised, rice dominates the diet and its low nutrient density likely contributes to the high rates of zinc deficiency.

'Noon-pantha' is fermented rice soaked in salt, the proverbial staple of the extreme poor in the country.

Experts indicate, even fortifying meals as humble as noon-panta can significantly help GDP growth and it is high time Bangladesh did what it takes to overcome hidden hunger.

Addressing micronutrient deficiency as a prioritised post-2015 agenda is crucial because not doing enough to fight that means "a loss of an estimated $7.9 billion in national GDP”, according to the National Micronutrients Status Survey 2011-12.