Islamabad - Balochistan Assembly Speaker Raheela Hameed Khan Durrani has said that the maternal and child mortality rate has increased in the province during the past decade.

“I have been noticing for the last six years that the mortality rate in women and children is increasing instead of decreasing and we are responsible for the deaths of the mother and children,” Durrani said while speaking as a panelist at a forum on “Food and Nutrition Security” held here on Tuesday. The forum was organized by HELVETAS Swiss Intercooperation (HSI) in collaboration with Scaling Up Nutrition (SUN) Secretariat, Planning Commission of Pakistan.

A panel of parliamentarians of different parties including Durani, Member GB Assembly Nadeem Imran, Member National Assembly Shehriyar Afridi,  Member KP Assembly Amina Sardar, and Member District Council Haripur Asif Ali, spoke while TV anchor Syed Talat Hussain was the moderator. The panelists held a detail discussion on how the issue of malnutrition could be addressed through policy measures and legislation.

Durrani said that in these mortalities, a major role was being played by malnutrition and, unfortunately, the majority of our population is even unaware of the term. “Our budgetary allocation for the food and nutrition is negligible and even in the upcoming fiscal budget, I don’t see any allocation for the purpose,” Durrani said.

“Even as a legislator, I don’t know that whether or not we have a nutrition policy,” she said. She said that “water which is also the main nutrient has become scarce in Balochistan and even in the capital Quetta, there is a severe shortage of water and almost half of the water is being supplied through tankers”.

Afridi said that “unfortunately, the majority of our parliamentarians are unaware of the food and nutrition issues”. “They are not even aware of the meaning of MDGs and SDGs so how they can these parliamentarians can bring reforms or make laws on this issue. As a parliamentarian, I am ashamed that nutrition is not our priority,” he said.

Amina Sardar said that “it is unfortunate that climate change which is a main reason for the malnutrition is completely ignored. I presented an adjournment motion in KP Assembly on climate change but I was told by the assembly secretariat that it is not a necessary issue.”

All the panel members agreed that though research had been initiated to probe the issue, there was a gap in data of malnutrition in different strata. The panel stressed the need for more in-depth research, policy measures and legislation to eradicate the menace of malnutrition. The panel also signed a memorandum of commitment to incorporate the issue in their party manifesto and collectively work for policy/legislation to meet the challenges in nutrition security.

Focal person SUN Aslam Shaheen said that about two billion people around the globe were suffering from nutrient deficiency. In Pakistan, he said that 44 percent of children were suffering from stunted growth while about 16 percent were wasted. Country Director HSI Dr Arjumand Nizami briefly elaborated about ‘Nutrition in Mountain Agro-ecology’ project of HSI funded by Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC). 

She told the forum that nutrition was a multi-sectoral issue and should be mainstreamed across the sectors through behavioural change.  She further pleaded for inclusion of nutrition security in the manifesto of all the political parties and stressed the need for personal and state commitments for the eradication of malnutrition.

Member Food Security and Climate Change, Planning Commission Dr Azeem Khan told the forum that the government had allocated Rs10 billion for an endowment fund to support nutrition-related programmes. He said that availability of nutrition-sensitive food was also an obligation of the government under Vision 2025, MGDs and SGDs.

Deputy Head of Mission Embassy of Australia BrekBatly appraised the forum that Australia was aware of the alarming situation of malnutrition in Pakistan and also the potentials to cope with the crises. He told the forum that mitigating malnutrition was a collective responsibility of all the nations and need policy and long-term commitment.