Cambodia: malnutrition in the land of rice paddies | Asia Pacific

Cambodia: malnutrition in the land of rice paddies

Cambodia: malnutrition in the land of rice paddies

Updated 5 June 2014, 12:36 AEST

The Australian government has been urged to focus attention on nutrition in its aid effort in Cambodia, especially in terms of funding.

The NGO Results International has been studying nutrition in Cambodia, and found that despite Cambodia's good economic growth, 40 per cent of children under five there, have stunted growth.

Cambodia may produce plenty of food, but its people are not eating a balanced diet.

Presenter: Sen Lam

Speaker: Maree Nutt, CEO, Results International Australia

NUTT: Cambodia was chosen because it is a key country in our region and good news for Cambodia is that over the last 20 years, it's made really good progress on economic growth. But the interesting thing is that despite this economic growth and it's been around 7 per cent for the last ten years, the rates of undernutrition of its people has actually stayed the same.

So, at a global level, in terms of addressing nutrition, one of the things that Results International has been focused on, is what's going to happen after the Millennium Development Goals are completed in 2015?

There was no specific goal that addressed nutrition, and that perhaps could be one of the reasons why as a global community, nutrition hasn't had the focus, that, for example, education has, within the Millennium Development Goals.

LAM: And can you tell us a little bit about the methodology. Who gather the data and who compiled the report?

NUTT: The report was compiled by our colleagues in Results UK, so Results is an international organisation, we have partners in a number of countries. Results UK, which has also focused, like Results Australia on the issue of nutrition within aid programs, took a delegation of parliamentarians from the UK to look at various development agencies and the government's interventions in nutrition.

And so what it found was there were a number of reasons for the situation where 40 percent of people are undernourished, and the reasons stem from the fact that addressing nutrition is really a multi-faceted approach in development.

When you look at development and education, we know what that's all about. It's about getting children into school, it's about providing the resources and quality teachers. But when it comes to nutrition, it's really a very multi-facetted approach that is required.

It's about how to ensure that pregnant women are well nourished and have good vitamin intake. It's about ensuring that families who are producing some of their own food, produce a diverse range of crops. So there's a range of interventions that are required to address nutrition.

LAM: So it's not just about staving off hunger, but also whatever it is that they eat, that it's beneficial to health?

NUTT: That's exactly right. In fact, one of the ironies is that Cambodia is a net exporter of food. It actually has more than enough food to feed people and stop them from being hungry, but it's the nutritional value of that food that needs to be looked at. Many children are eating rice that is flavoured with salted water and there's very little protein, like fish and even less vegetables.

LAM: So have you engaged the Cambodian government? What did they have to say about the malnutrition that's occurring in the country, despite a growing economy?

NUTT: I think it's clear that the Cambodian government is now making this a priority. They have developed a five-year strategy. What's needed from them is to actually put the domestic resources behind it.

They have focused on other areas of their health system. There is over 90 percent immunisation rates of children, which is fabulous. There is over 90 percent enrolment rate of children in schools. So they have actually focused on some very important areas of development.

What's happening in Cambodia is not unique to Cambodia, it's something that is happening across many developing countries is that there isn't a sustained effort and focus on addressing nutrition. So with this strategy that they have developed, now is the time for them to put domestic resources behind it.

LAM: And Australia, of course, is a major donor country to Cambodia. What recommendations did Results have to make in its report to donor countries, like Australia?

NUTT: Yes exactly, Australia is a major donor country. In fact, we're the third biggest donor to Cambodia. In 2012-13, we gave 84 million dollars and much of that is doing good work in agriculture, as well as child and maternal health.

But now it's time for the Australian government to also put a greater focus on nutrition, not only in Cambodia, but across our entire aid programme.

And in late 2012, the government recognised that our own aid programme didn't have a strong focus on nutrition and was working to develop a nutrition strategy, which is a very important step for the government.

And then 12 months ago, almost to the day, donor countries, like Australia, attended a Nutrition for Growth Summit, where the government of the day committed 40 million dollars over four years.

Now, as we know, we've had an election, we've had a change of government, we've had the integration of AusAID into the Department of Foreign Affairs.

What remains very unclear for Results is what's the status of that nutrition strategy that was being developed by AusAID? And what is the current government's commitment to delivering that increased funding, that 40 million dollars?

So our recommendation to the Australian government is very much about keeping the focus on developing that strategy within our aid programme and also increasing specific interventions that address nutrition.

So we will be letting them know that we haven't forgotten about that pledge that was made 12 months ago, and that we haven't forgotten that there was an intention to develop this strategy. And our role is to ensure that we keep the pressure on them to deliver on those commitments.


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