22 March 2007

Why poor families in Indonesia may survive from hunger?

COMMON SENSE would say that children who suffer from malnutrition are those of poor families. This applies anywhere and our research in five districts in East Nusa Tenggara of Indonesia confirms it as well. Nothing is new. We find however not few poor families are able to keep their children remain healthy. Comparison between both kinds may be fruitful for understanding why malnutrition takes place and presumably we may identify what to suggest for improvement.

Most of those children who now suffer from acute malnutrition were earlier healthy ones. When asked why those children become too skinny, two third of their parents promptly respond that their children start to lose appetite and get sick. And most of the parents also do not know that their children actually suffer from malnutrition. They only realize what malnutrition is all about after visiting sub-district health center (puskesmas) and being informed so and/or by village midwives. They mostly are confused which is the first, getting sick or malnourishment. No chicken or egg problem here because is it not the fact that there are more children who do not suffer malnourishment than those malnourished? This would explain that although there are many diseases threatening, food quality would directly improve human body immunity.

Data on food quality at household level shows obvious difference between families having malnourished children and those with better nourished ones. The parents of the first category tend to give their under-5-year babies only rice porridge without any vegetables, while better nourished get more. If the latter parents could not afford to feed their children with additional food like fish or meat or other protein, data shows vegetables are the minimum additional food given to them in order to survive acute malnutrition. Analysis confirms that providing vegetables is the most conspicuous option that makes little but meaningful comparative difference between both.

It should be assumed however that this preference on food quality in understanding malnutrition and even hunger phenomenon does not put aside common knowledge that the diseases rapidly deteriorate already weak body condition for malnourishment. Diseases are common symptoms that this research considers to be put in the bracket for the moment. It is also because diseases like malaria, diarrhea, respiratory malfunction locally called ISPA, etc. commonly infect among poor people.

In addition, in many locations of the country gender preference matters as it is common that male members of the families, particularly the husband or father, are privileged of foods. And women are assumed to have less food and more chores. However, data also reveals that children malnutrition has likely nothing to do with gender bias within the families. Those families who apparently join hand in hand among all members of the families, but especially between husbands and wives, to put priority in nurturing their children, likely to have healthy children. Most poor families but having more healthy habit know what to do their best. Those who fail mostly have less understanding about basic knowledge on nutrition. The danger of malnutrition is much closer when they have more than two toddlers particularly when they fail to have one child be born long enough after the other. The most certain in trouble are those who have twin babies apart from other, let's say, five small children.**

Update 30/6/07
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