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Gov’t seeks P9.7-billion loan from WB to address malnutrition

CAUSES of undernutrition in the Philippines stretch across multiple sectors, from poor quality of diet served to children in their own households to insufficient access to health and environmental services. — BW FILE PHOTO

THE GOVERNMENT is looking to tap the World Bank (WB) for a $200-million (P9.73-billion) loan to expand and improve nutrition programs in local government units (LGUs), a document from the multilateral bank showed.

The World Bank said the proposed “Philippines Multisectoral Nutrition” project loan will be acted upon by its board on Nov. 25.

“The proposed project would support the government of the Philippines to adopt a bold, multisectoral nutrition approach to deliver a coordinated package of nutrition-specific and nutrition-sensitive interventions across the various LGU platforms,” the document published on Wednesday read.

The main implementing agencies of the proposed project are the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) and the National Nutrition Council.

The multilateral bank said 30% of Filipinos under five years old are stunted to date, 19% are underweight and 6% are wasted, or those experiencing severe weight loss due to starvation or illness.

Children are considered stunted if the height relative to age is below than the population’s average because the body’s growth was severely slowed down by the lack of nutrition.

The social and economic impacts of the coronavirus pandemic pose “grave risks to the nutritional status and survival of young children” as the rate of hunger in the country climbed when the crisis hit, it added.

It said 30.7% of Filipino families suffered hunger and 8.7% reported severe hunger during the crisis, the highest in 20 years, based on a September 2020 survey by the Social Weather Stations.

As more Filipino families went hungry because of the crisis, the World Bank said more children will suffer from undernutrition this year, report poor performance in school, and be less productive when they become adults if there is no intervention.

“The persistence of very high levels of childhood undernutrition in the Philippines, despite the country experiencing decades of economic growth and poverty reduction, could lead to a staggering loss of the country’s human and economic potential,” the multilateral lender said.

It estimated that the burden of high childhood undernutrition on the economy was valued at $4.4 billion or equivalent to 1.5% of gross domestic product (GDP) in 2015.

Causes of undernutrition in the Philippines stretch across multiple sectors, from poor quality of diet served to children in their own households to insufficient access to health and environmental services.

The bank said the proposed project should boost the capacity of LGUs to effectively implement programs promoting nutrition among Filipino children.

The $200-million project loan is divided into three components, with the first part supporting LGUs to improve their capacity to rollout their nutrition and healthcare services.

The second component aims to help nutrition-related efforts of the government across selected communities to be more coordinated, while promoting healthy behaviors in these areas.

The loan will also strengthen the management capacity of implementing agencies, provide technical assistance to the newly established Bangsamoro autonomous government, and proper monitoring of the project’s progress.

“The proposed financing remains highly relevant to the World Bank Group’s twin goals to reduce poverty and promote shared prosperity as it continues to focus on service delivery at frontline levels and by incentivizing integrated outreach services in reproductive, maternal and child health, and nutrition services,” the World Bank said. — Beatrice M. Laforga

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