» Archive for category: ‘child poverty

Mining for Malnutrition?

Category: aid| child poverty

15 Jun 2014

micronutirent-powder-sachet-open-in-hand‘Superkid’, Millennium Development Goals, an Australian mining multi-national, power powder, open pit gold mining, malnutrition, the Hong Kong stock exchange and UNICEF. Since 10 June 2014 these seemingly disconnected ideas, actors and practices come together in a remarkably concrete form: a tiny sachet containing a micronutrient powder to be sprinkled on rice fed to Lao infants.

What is all this about? Since late 2011, the Australian headquartered and Hong Kong stock exchange listed multinational mining company MMG has been in a public-private partnership with UNICEF Laos and the Lao government. Child malnutrition has long been a development concern in Laos, where UNICEF reported in 2012 that ‘thirty-one per cent of children under 5 are underweight, and 48 per cent are stunted’, whilst further noting that ‘more than one third of deaths of children under 5 years old in developing countries, like the Lao people’s Democratic Republic, are attributable to it’. According to UNICEF, the problem isn’t so much one of no food or too little but one of overreliance on rice which provides a sufficient energy base yet not all the necessary nutrients.

Concerned that persisting high levels of child malnutrition will put reaching the Millennium Development Goal 4 on child survival at risk, the Lao government welcomes the ‘1000 Days project’. In this project, the Lao Ministry of Health, Unicef Laos, MMG, PSI, and the Lao Women’s Union have partnered in order to distribute micro-nutrient sachets (branded ‘Superkid’) to families with children under 2 years of age at no cost to these families in three provinces in Laos.

MMG, which exploits open pit copper and gold mines in one of the concerned provinces (Savannakhet) has, according to Unicef, pledged US$1.38 million to the project. On its own website, MMG further details that ‘the 1000 Day Project aims to reach an estimated 180,000 Lao children, aged 6 to 59 months, via the distribution of approximately 4 million micronutrient sachets, each containing important vitamins, zinc and other nutrients’. In addition, Unicef states that ‘additional sachets will be subsidized and made available to families with children under 5 years old’.

In line with wider trends in development practice, it is perfectly possible to contribute to this very concrete and highly localised public-private initiative in a rather remote part of the world from anywhere provided there is an internet connection and a credit card at hand. How this works? Through the Unicef-MMG ‘matched giving website‘! Its webpages explain that ‘every micronutrient powder gift purchased online will be matched by MMG, dollar for dollar, resulting in double the impact for children in need’. Donating $25 pays for 750 sachets; sufficient for 2 infants over a period of one year. However, since MMG doubles the amount (with a stated ceiling of $25,000), clicking the ‘pay button’ will ‘save’ four Lao infants for the price of two…

Despite the apparent simplicity of the intervention,  reading the various webpages reporting about the project there appears plenty of confusion and quite a few worrysome errors. Whilst Unicef mentions that the project will be rolled out in three Southern Lao provinces, MMG includes also a northern province (Phongsaly) among the three target provinces. Also, whereas Unicef mentions that MMG has pledged US$1.38 to the project on one of its webpages, it talks about 1.5 million on another site. There also appears something wrong with the maths. From the figures on the matched giving website we can deduce that a child needs a sachet a day. If so, how will 4 million sachets be sufficient to reach the estimated target population of 180,000 Lao children, as MMG explains, even if we were to limit ourselves to one year only (65 million appears a more realistic figure)?

Ultimately however, I guess the real issues aren’t in any of what I have listed above but in the simple observation that there might be something wrong more fundamentally if the same rural spaces that generate great wealth for some remain sites with high levels of child malnutrition for so many others.

posted by Roy Huijsmans



Young Lives formulates key messages on child poverty

Young Lives, a longitudinal study of child poverty, published a report today to coincide with the ‘High Level Panel’ that met in Bali to decide on a development framework to follow up the UN’s Millennium Development Goals. Despite the gains made by the MDGs, the Young Lives report highlights the enduring – and sometimes emergent – inequalities between children across and within different countries. It paints a cautionary tale against leaving the poorest children even more marginalized by poverty reduction efforts.

The eight key messages of the report are:

Message 1. Inequalities in children’s development originate in multiple disadvantages, which compound to affect children’s long-term outcomes

Message 2. Inequalities undermine the development of human potential: children from disadvantaged families quickly fall behind

Message 3. In Young Lives countries, gender differences become more significant as children get older, but boys are not always advantaged

Message 4. Early malnutrition has serious, long-term consequences for children’s development, but there is evidence that some children may recover and ‘catch up’

Message 5. Inequalities open up during middle and later childhood, as children grow up

Message 6. How children feel about themselves and their well-being is both a major indicator of inequality and a channel for the transmission of poverty

Message 7. Education is regarded by both adults and children as having the potential to transform their lives, but doesn’t always compensate for disadvantage and may reinforce differences between children

Message 8. Social protection programmes can reduce disadvantage, but impacts are often complex, sometimes unintended and may not always benefit children.

Since inequalities are multidimensional, so too must be the response. Equitable growth policies, education and health services, underpinned by effective social protection, all have a role to play.

Young Lives is a 15-year study that follows the progress of 12,000 children in 4 countries (Ethiopia, India, Peru and Vietnam) with the goal of challenging policymakers to effect change in childhood poverty. You can read the entire report here: http://www.younglives.org.uk/publications/PP/what-inequality-means-for-children

posted by Kristen Cheney

posted by Roy Huijsmans

Drawing on a 2012 SCP publication on poverty in the Netherlands, the Dutch ‘Children’s Ombudsman’ has now launched an online platform inviting children (especially) and adults to share their experiences of poverty in the Netherlands by answering a list of questions.

The aim of this initiative is to learn more about child poverty in the Netherlands since 2011 statistics show that nearly one in ten children (0-17 years) in the Netherlands live in poverty, and that the total number of children living in poverty has grown with 57,000 children (to a total of 359,000) from 2010 to 2011. Importantly, the statistics use the household as the unit of analysis which excludes the possibility of ‘child poverty’ in households above the income thresshold. This thresshold is Euro 960 per month for a single adult, which is adjusted for household composition (a distinction is made between a two-parent and single-parent households and between childless and households with children (up to three)). It also assumes that ‘poverty’ is shared equally among all members of the household – something which, of course, has long been contested in development studies.

Despite the valid concern about an apparent rise in poverty in the Netherlands, figures are still below 1994 when 8.6% of the Dutch population was considered poor (7.6% in 2011). The 2011 figures show, however, interesting generational variation:

Children are overrepresented in poverty statistics, people in their fifties are underrepresented, and those over 65 have the lowest risk of poverty.

When it comes to children (0-17) specifically some important patterns are identified:

One third of the children living in poverty are from ‘non-Dutch decent’. Poverty is considerably higher in single-parent households than in two-parent households and also more prominent in households with three or more children than in households with fewer children. Furthermore, children aged 8-10 are at greater risk of living in poverty than older or younger children. This said to be so since single-parent households are more common when children are 8-10 than at a younger age.

The online questionnaires launched by the Children’s Ombudsman pay particular attention to children’s subjective experiences of poverty as it includes questions like ‘how do you notice there is little money in your family?’ Attention to children’s subjective experiences of poverty has become quite common in development studies (see for example HERE), yet remains rare in the so-called developed world. Despite this useful innovation it remains to be seen of course whether children living in poverty (especially!) will actually be in a position to access this online survey and/or will know about it before it closes again in three weeks from now…



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