ISLAMABAD -  Benazir Income Support Programme (BISP) Chairperson Marvi Memon on Monday said that 43.7pc children in the country are stunted, 31.5pc underweighted and 15.1 percent are wasted.

“It is a matter of high priority for us to address the situation at the earliest,” she said while addressing the signing ceremony for the agreement on an operational research project for the prevention of under nutrition within social protection in the country. The agreement was signed between BISP, World Food Programme (WFP), Integrated Reproductive Mother Neonatal Child Health Programme and Nutrition Programme Punjab (IRMNCH & NP). The agreement was signed by WFP Country Director Stephen Gluning and BISP DG Shahid Gul Qureshi in the presence of the BISP chairperson, National Health Services and Regulations Additional Secretary Dr Hashim Popalzai, Head of Nutrition WFP Cecilia Garzen and Nutrition Punjab Programme Manager Nasir.

Under the pilot phase of the project, BISP beneficiary households having 6-23 month old children would be provided nutrition supplements by WFP coupled with Behaviour Change Communication in Rahim Yar Khan District.

The project will be implemented through Punjab Primary and Secondary Health Department in close coordination with an internationally recognised academic research institute. A network of lady heath visitors (LHVs) will be engaged in social mobilisation for behaviour change communication. The findings of this research would demonstrate the impact of cash transfers when combined with nutrition supplements on the lives of the poorest.

Addressing the signing ceremony, the BISP chairperson stated that the Unconditional Cash Transfer of BISP is effectively helping the poor in meeting their basic needs particularly food and health. According to second impact evaluation report by Oxford Policy Management, BISP has resulted in 19 percent reduction in poverty, 3 percent decline in poverty gap, malnutrition rates fell by 4 percent and 71 percent of the beneficiaries exercise full control over their stipend that makes them financially empowered.

She reiterated that the results of this research would highlight the best nutrition sensitive approach that can further be replicated all across Pakistan to address malnutrition, stunting and low IQs.

The WFP country director said that WFP is proud to be a part of this initiative as for the first time this type of research is being conducted that would provide Pakistan a great opportunity to use the scientific findings in future policy making on social protection programmes.

Shahid, Dr Hashim, Cecilia and Dr Nasir highlighted that this is a great initiative that would help the relevant institutions in tackling the issue of malnutrition.