- Lesotho’s National Statistics indicate that half of the children in Lesotho aged 6 to 59 months have iron deficiency anemia.
- The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition says women of childbearing age, both pregnant and non-pregnant, are at high risk of iron and zinc deficiency in many developing countries.
- Breastfed infants who do not receive iron-rich complementary foods by six months of age can quickly become iron deficient.
In his latest apostolic exhortation, “Laudate Deum,” Pope Francis describes the climate crisis as a social issue that is intimately related to the dignity of human life.
He further articulates that despite attempts to deny, conceal, gloss over or relativize the issue, the signs of climate change are here and increasingly evident.
“We will feel its effects in areas of healthcare, sources of employment, access to resources, housing, forced migrations and these effects will be borne mostly by the most vulnerable populations,” he pronounced.
Truths on disability
A Submission by Sightsavers to the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) Questionnaire on Persons with Disabilities (PWDs) and Climate Change in 2019 says climate change interacts with stressors and structural inequalities to shape vulnerabilities;
Yet even though the importance of an inclusive approach in addressing risks posed by climate change is acknowledged in the Paris Agreement, the relationship between climate risk and disability is often neglected.
Lesotho’s National Statistics indicate that half of the children in Lesotho aged 6 to 59 months have iron deficiency anemia, which delays physical growth and cognitive development, impacts the ability to learn and weakens immune systems.
The 2018 Multiple Indicator Cluster Survey (MICS) shows that more than 8% of children aged two to four have functional difficulty in the areas of seeing, hearing, walking, fine motor, communication, learning, playing, or controlling behavior.
“One third of children under five in Lesotho are experiencing stunting, or poor growth, and half of children under five have iron-deficiency anaemia,” the survey states.
Climate change, food and nutrition
The Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) and the International Food Policy Research Institute report on the Impact of Climate Change and Bioenergy on Nutrition highlights that the rise in petrol prices has allowed new cost-effective and energy-efficient biofuels to be made as alternative energy sources.
Biofuel production, however, negatively impacts nutrition through increased greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.
Subsequently, the World Food Programme (WFP) review on Climate Impacts on Food Security and Nutrition further underlines that changes in climatic conditions are affecting the production of some staple crops, and future climate change predictions will exacerbate this.
The review emphasizes that higher temperatures will have a direct impact on food production, while changes in rainfall will impact the quality and quantity of crops.
Exposure to CO2
Research led by the Director of Planetary Health Alliance at Harvard Chan School, Sam Myers, shows that when foods like wheat, rice, corn and soy are exposed to carbon dioxide(CO2) at levels predicted for 2050, the plants will lose almost 10% of their zinc, 5% iron, and 8% of protein in their content.
These are all essential nutrients needed in managing maternal mortality during childbirth and mostly brain development in children.
The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition says women of childbearing age, both pregnant and non-pregnant, are at high risk of iron and zinc deficiency in many developing countries.
Moreover, breastfed infants who do not receive iron-rich complementary foods by six months of age can quickly become iron deficient.
“Iron and zinc are essential micronutrients for human growth, development, and maintenance of the immune system,” the journal clarifies.
This reiterates how iron is vital for psychomotor development, maintenance of physical activity, work capacity and resistance to infection, whereas zinc is needed for growth and maintenance of immune function.
Nutrition and disability research
Advocate Nkhasi Sefuthi, the Executive Director of Lesotho National Federation of Organisations of the Disabled (LNFOD), acknowledged the link between malnutrition and disability, noting an early identification project on children aged 0-6 by LNFOD in collaboration with SPOON Foundation, United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and Johns Hopkins International Injury Research Unit at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.
“Poverty in many instances seems to be the root cause of malnutrition in Lesotho, and unfortunately, the impacts of climate change are most prominent on food insecure families with little or no knowledge on proper nutritional strategies,” he notes.
In the developmental and nutrition screening for children aged 0-6 years in Lesotho Report (results of the early identification project), 22-month-old Lerato appeared to be visibly malnourished, with a reported disability, including motor delays that made it difficult for her to sit upright, stand, or straighten her legs.
When Lerato was growth-assessed, she was found severely underweight at 4.5kg (average weight for a 22-month-old baby girl is around 11kg).
Likewise, her mid-upper arm circumference (MUAC) and length (a measurement that allows health workers to quickly determine if a patient is malnourished) could not be measured due to the shortening of muscles, tendons, ligaments or skin that prevents normal movement of the affected body part (contractures).
While undergoing extra screening, further complications were uncovered, and Lerato was identified as at risk across development, emotional and behavioral domains.
“With more mealtime practice assessments and discussions made, Count me in, a health application that strengthens the quality of care by generating data to support decision making, more serious feeding concerns beyond the infant and young child feeding practices were uprooted. Verifying that Lerato has been experiencing feeding difficulties since birth. For example, difficulty in suckling and positioning,” the report says.
The report further highlights how Lerato’s mother knew something was wrong with her child.
Despite her repeatedly seeking medical care, she was told she was not feeding ‘Lerato’ accordingly. Yet, she was never given guidance or practical help to counter this.
However, through the help of the early identification training and ‘Count Me In’, Lerato was screened, and with a District Nutritionist’s guide, referral processes began.
Lerato and her family were given the specialized care they needed.
Sustainable Development Goals (SDG #2) policy brief identifies that zero hunger will only be achieved when PWDs have physical and economic access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food that meets their dietary needs and preferences.
Advocate Sefuthi says inclusivity, education and participation of PWDs in policy development are also needed.
“Climate change and disability is an emerging concept in Lesotho. That is why even our disability laws do not encompass climate change matters influencing disability.
Consequently, PWDs are unfortunately the most affected populations when it comes to climate change-related disasters and challenges,” he explains.
George Motlalepula, a Member of the National Climate Change Committee from the Ministry of Agriculture, Food Security and Nutrition, acknowledges that the depreciation of nutrients such as iron during pregnancy may result in disability.
He notes the importance of new technologies to supplement early identification programs.
“In order to ensure viable food production in terms of quality and quantity, technology development and adoption should be strengthened for better results in early identification of disability projects,” he says.
Even though Motlalepula highlights that Lesotho is faring well through strategic plans, policies and action plans to maintain nutritional values that prevent disability, he insists that the National Action Plan for Food Security 2007-2017, as well as Food and Nutrition policies, should be taken into account during decision-making processes.
Food and nutrition plans
Lesotho National Action Programme in Natural Resource Management, Combating Desertification and Mitigating the Effects of Drought 2015 recognizes Lesotho’s fragile ecosystems because of its topography, type and pattern of rainfall, erodibility of soils, land use patterns and habitats.
“Over the last 20 years, Lesotho has lost over 100 thousand hectares of arable land which is a 25% decrease in usable land for production of food and fodder due to manmade climate change issues such as mismanagement of the land, over-cultivation and overgrazing by domestic animals,” the action program says.
However, the action plan notes the importance of implementing Agenda 21 (an action plan derived from the text of the Convention at the Rio Earth Summit, where the world proposed ways of combatting and mitigating desertification).
“Strategies to implement Agenda 21 are to develop early warning systems to enhance preparedness and promote public awareness of desertification control and management of effects of drought,” the desertification action plan outlines.
Additionally, Lesotho’s Food and Nutrition Policy 2016, which is intended to shape and guide the planning and implementation of nutrition interventions, highlights the Government of Lesotho’s knowledge of how nutrition plays a role in shaping the health and productivity of its population.
“Despite levels of malnutrition remaining high among vulnerable groups, Lesotho’s commitment is demonstrated by the existence of the Food and Nutrition Coordinating Office that was established by Cabinet Memorandum No. 38 of 1978,” the policy explains.
YOU MAY ALSO LIKE: An overview of food and nutrition security in Kenya
Moreover, food and nutrition interventions are being promoted and implemented by key line ministries, namely Health, Agriculture and Food Security; Trade and Industry; Small Business Development; Cooperatives and Marketing; and Education and Training.