DUBAI // A report on the global problem of malnutrition among children is to be translated into Arabic to help counter a lack of awareness of the issue.
The report was prepared by the international NGO, Save the Children. The study, entitled A Life Free From Hunger: Tackling Child Malnutrition, is currently being translated by Dubai Cares.
"We want to make it available to Arab audiences, we're hoping to put this problem in the public eye in the region," said Soha Ellaithy, the group's director of Gulf partnerships. "It's right that people whose language is Arabic can find the information in their mother tongue.
"The average person thinks of malnutrition as being the problem of African children with distended stomachs that comes from extreme drought. But what we're trying to raise awareness about is that this issue is hidden, it is there in every community and there are multiple reasons. By addressing those reason we can solve the problem."
Ms Ellaithy said the level of awareness of healthy nutrition was much higher in the West.
"One of the reasons for the problem is the lack of awareness among parents about what constitutes good nutrition and what could be causing malnutrition," she added. "They're not realising that they're contributing to the problem.
"In Egypt one of our programmes is very much focussed on raising the awareness of the mothers about what to feed their children in rural areas where food is not necessarily scarce or expensive. It's just that mothers don't know what to feed their children, they give them food that ends up causing malnutrition."
The report says 35 per cent of child deaths each year are cause by factors linked to malnutrition. Chronic malnutrition causes stunting, where children are shorter than average - a condition that affects 178 million youngsters.
The authors say: "Progress on reducing malnutrition has been pitifully slow for 20 years... Action must be taken now to prevent the crisis deteriorating and more children suffering the life-long consequences."
They highlight some successes in the region. Saudi Arabia, for example, tops a list of the 10 countries that achieved the fastest annual reduction in stunting between 1990 and 2010. However Yemen is equal fourth in a list of countries that achieve the slowest annual reduction over the same period.
The report sets out a plan to tackle hunger that includes a number of points that, according to Ms Ellaithy, are relevant even to high and medium-income countries in the region.
They include promoting and supporting breastfeeding, investing in nutrition-friendly agriculture, giving children fortified foods, and providing education about nutrition, hygiene and food preparation practices.
Years of conflict have led to an increase in the level of malnutrition in Gaza, but a UAE initiative is providing some respite for children in the strip.
"We want to highlight that there is support from the UAE," said Ms Ellaithy. "Sheikha Jawaher Bint Mohammed AI Qasimi, the wife of the Ruler of Sharjah, is through her Salam ya Seghar Fund supporting a health and nutrition programme that we are running for vulnerable Palestinian children.
"It is a comprehensive programme that looks at different issues that the children are facing. We are doing assessments of mothers and children who we think are at risk from malnutrition. We enrol those children who are malnourished in a therapeutic feeding programme and we also enrol the parents into awareness and hygiene programmes.
"We graduate the children when we feel that they are stabilised and the parents know how to prevent malnutrition coming back."
A selection of photographs commissioned for the report are to go on show on Sunday at the Atlantis hotel. The pictures were taken in a number of countries including Yemen, Somali, South Sudan, Ethiopia and Pakistan.
"Some photos from the Gaza project will be in the exhibition," added Ms Ellaithy. "We're very, very proud of it."