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Does a Fast-Growing Economy Mean Healthier Children?


India's GDP is growing, but is economic growth enough to ease malnutrition among children?

India's GDP is growing, but is economic growth enough to ease malnutrition among children?


Hello again, and welcome to As It Is! I’m Jonathan Evans in Washington.

Today on the program, we take a look at how Somalia is working to rebuild its economy. But first, a recent study questions whether placing attention on economic growth is the best way to improve child nutrition in low- and middle-income countries. Mario Ritter has more.

Subu Subramanian is a professor at the Harvard School of Public Health in Massachusetts. He says there is a common belief on the best way to improve child health in developing countries. He puts it this way:
"Let’s just go after economic growth and then everything else will just follow."

But, he says, that is not always true. Take India, for example. A common measure of a country’s economic health is gross domestic product, or GDP. India’s GDP has been growing by more than five percent a year. That is a higher growth rate than most Western countries.

Yet more than two-fifths of India’s children are underweight. And Subu Subramanian says the percentage of underweight children has changed little since the early 1990s.
He and other researchers asked a question. Was economic growth failing to reach children in countries other than India? They looked at health surveys carried out since 1990 in 36 low- and middle-income countries, mostly south of Africa’s Sahara Desert.
The researchers compared the effect of GDP growth and signs of child malnutrition, like stunted growth and being underweight. But the researchers found only a small relationship, or correlation.

“Practically zero to very, very small.”

The group reported their findings in the journal Lancet Global Health.
Subu Subramanian says money should be spent on clean water and waste treatment systems, childhood immunization campaigns and other programs.
“Without these direct investments, what we are seeing is economic growth by itself is not making much impact.”

But that is not how Lawrence Haddad sees the issue. He is head of the Institute of Development Studies in Britain.

Lawrence Haddad says malnutrition has dropped sharply over the past 20 years in countries like Vietnam, Ghana or Brazil. He says economic growth was responsible for half of those declines.

“And the other half is attributable to strategic investments in water, sanitation, health systems, nutrition programs.”

He says it takes both GDP growth and the right investments to improve child nutrition. I’m Mario Ritter.

You are listening to As It Is from VOA Learning English.

For years, Somalia has been called a failed state. Piracy, poverty and terrorism have been problems in the country for a long time. But recent improvements suggest that the country is taking steps toward lasting security. Here again is Mario Ritter.

Conference Seeks to Rebuild Somalia's Economy

Somali officials say a stronger economy is extremely important to peace. Last week, Somali officials traveled to the United Arab Emirates hoping to attract foreign investment. The event, called The Somalia Investment Summit, was held in Dubai. The goal was to present Somalia as a good place to invest.

Somalia is still dealing with the effects of a 20-year civil war. Foreign intervention is the main cause of increased security in the country. Over the past year, African Union troops helped drive al-Shabab militants from major cities. And international naval forces have sharply decreased pirate attacks.

But, Ali Mohamed Gedi warns that the results of these efforts could be temporary. Mr. Gedi is the former prime minister of Somalia’s Transitional Federal Government. He says poverty must be ended. He says poverty is the reason young people join al-Shabab.
"If we create jobs for them I believe that they’ll play a role in the stabilization and the security of the country."

The chairman of the Somali Economic Forum, Hassan Dudde, agrees. He says the pull of illegal activity, such as piracy, is strong when there are no jobs available. He says attracting investment to Somalia now, while security is improving, is very important.
“I think what the international organizations and the international community is starting to realize is that bringing troops to Somalia will not be the answer to this problem. When people have jobs and a better life they will be less likely to get in trouble.”

Although conditions in Somalia are improving, safety threats remain. Somalia lacks a central government. Corruption is common. And the workforce is largely unskilled. These problems concern possible investors.

Also, there are no secure legal safeguards for foreign investors. Hirsi Dirir is Chief Executive Officer of Dahabshil Bank, which operates in 130 businesses in the country.
“Investors are a bit afraid of going into situations like that, but there’s a huge opportunity.”

Somali officials are preparing legislation to create investment safeguards. And, increased security has led to a growing number of foreign investors. Currently, the United Arab Emirates, Oman and Yemen are the top investors in Somalia.
I’m Mario Ritter.

And that’s our program for today. We hope you continue to invest your time in As It Is and other programs from VOA Learning English. I’m Jonathan Evans. Thanks for listening.
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