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Malnutrition in East Timor Calls for Action

The Australian owners of a restaurant in East Timor are hoping to use their passion for the local cuisine to combat malnutrition in the tiny Southeast Asian nation.

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Malnutrition needs an end

The Australian owners of a restaurant in East Timor are hoping to use their passion for the local cuisine to combat malnutrition in the tiny Southeast Asian nation.

East Timor has Asia’s worst rates of child malnutrition, with more than 50 percent of children suffering from stunting – a condition that permanently affects their mental and physical development – according to the United Nations.

But this is not primarily due to a shortage of food – instead, the U.N. children’s agency UNICEF blames a lack of education and knowledge about local foods.

Development worker turned restaurateur Mark Notaras said traditional dishes like batar da’an – a kind of corn stew served at his Agora Food Studio restaurant in the capital Dili – were looked down on as “poor people’s food.”

“If you came to visit Timor, you could eat at 150 restaurants and never find it on a menu,” he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Representational image showing a malnutrition ridden child.

Notaras and his wife, Alva Lim, launched the non-profit Timor-Leste Food Innovators Exchange (TLFIX) last year to educate people across the country about cooking with healthy and local ingredients.

They hope to persuade them to supplement diets of white rice and instant noodles – which provide cheap calories but little nutrition – with the indigenous plants that grow there.

“We encourage people to eat a wider array of foods they already have around them in order to improve their nutrition,” said Notaras.

UNICEF already trains mothers in East Timor to provide more nutritious meals, showing them how to incorporate locally grown carrots and leafy greens into the rice that children are traditionally fed.

Lim and Notaras take a more innovative approach. (VOA)

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Most Children Globally Lack Social Protection Coverage

The report highlights the impact extreme poverty has upon the lives of children and the societies in which they live. Chief of the U.N. Children’s Fund Child Poverty and Social Protection Unit, David Stewart, says 385 million children are living on under $1.90 a day.

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Syrian children queue to receive food distributed by humanitarian aid workers at a makeshift camp for displaced people, near the village of Yazi Bagh, Feb. 7, 2018. VOA

A joint study by the International Labor Organization and U.N. Children’s Fund finds the vast majority of the world’s children lack effective social protection coverage. It says this dooms them to a life of extreme poverty, with negative implications for society.

The study finds only one third of children between zero and 14 years of age have any social protection. That means two-thirds, or 1.3 billion children live without a social safety net.

International Labor Organization Social Protection Department Director Isabel Ortiz says just slightly more than one percent of GDP is allocated to social protection for children. She says this huge under-investment gap needs to be covered.

Children
The report highlights the impact extreme poverty has upon the lives of children and the societies in which they live. Chief of the U.N. Children’s Fund Child Poverty and Social Protection Unit, David Stewart, says 385 million children are living on under $1.90 a day. Pixabay

“And, of course, the numbers worsen as we go by region. In Africa, for instance, children represent 40 percent of the African population overall. However, only 0.6 percent is actually invested in social protection for children,” she said.

The report finds children fare best in Europe and Central Asia where 87 percent have social protection coverage, followed by children in the Americas with 66 percent. Asia and Africa have the worst records. The report says no data is available on the Arab States.

The report highlights the impact extreme poverty has upon the lives of children and the societies in which they live. Chief of the U.N. Children’s Fund Child Poverty and Social Protection Unit, David Stewart, says 385 million children are living on under $1.90 a day.

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Stewart says this has negative implications for children, and for societies and economies as well. Pixabay

“I think one of the most striking statistics, which emerges is that children are two times as likely to be living in poverty as adults,” he said. “Now, for children it is particularly concerning because poverty can have a lifetime implication for children. You do not have a second chance at nutrition, at health care, and education.”

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Stewart says this has negative implications for children, and for societies and economies as well.

The ILO and UNICEF recommend the rapid expansion of social protection for children including the consideration of universal cash grants to children. Authors of the report say evidence clearly shows cash transfers play a vital role in breaking the vicious cycle of poverty and vulnerability. (VOA)