Cape Town - While government resources are exhausted to combat the Covid-19 pandemic, a pandemic of hunger is consuming the nation at a rapid rate.
Experts now fear malnutrition in women and children will stunt the future of the economy.
Statistics released by Operation Hunger indicated that 11.8 million (20%) of South Africans are expected to face high levels of acute food insecurity.
Chief executive of Operation Hunger, Sandy Bukula said that there had been a national intense focus on relief interventions, without integrating the people to long-term sustainable solutions.
“Hunger and malnutrition are detrimental, especially to women and children. While good nutrition is important for everyone, it is especially important during the 1 000 days between a woman’s pregnancy and her child’s second birthday. During the first 1 000 days, there is a brief window of opportunity to drastically improve a child’s development and long-term health.
“Malnutrition in this period is especially dangerous, resulting in irreversible setbacks including stunted growth, reduced cognitive development, and a predisposition for obesity and non-communicable diseases (NCDs) later in life,” she said.
Bukula said that stunted children today lead to stunted economies tomorrow. Sub-Saharan Africa alone loses $25 billion a year because of poor nutrition. At a continental level, Africa loses about 11% of its GDP because of poor nutrition. In South Africa, 27.4% of children under five years of age are affected by stunting.
Centre Manager of Siyabonga Africa, Sarah-Jane Brink said that more than 50% of South Africans currently live below the breadline which means that they can barely afford food.
“This definitely affects the most vulnerable members of our communities such as our children. In the last two years, the unemployment rate in South Africa has increased. More than three million people have lost their jobs. Unemployment is a major contributing factor to ongoing poverty and hunger. Hunger affects children physically, psychologically and socially. They are not able to learn, socialise or develop normally, on an empty stomach,” she said.
Brink mentioned that South Africans can help alleviate hunger by supporting worthy organisations, through the My School My Village My Planet initiative, and while you are providing food for your household, you can be providing food to those who can't afford it.
“Share your grocery basket with a family in need or provide a daily lunch-box to an underprivileged child you may know or support job-creating initiatives that empower people with skills and opportunities to look after themselves, and support small businesses in your area and online,” she said.