MANILA • Children in the Philippines suffer from "sub-Saharan levels" of malnutrition that stunts growth in a population who have traditionally been considered short because of genetics, a campaign group has said.
Although economic growth has surged in recent years, chronic malnutrition means the country has more stunted children than Ethiopia or the Republic of Congo, the Save the Children Fund said in a new report yesterday.
"The assumption has always been that Filipinos are just genetically short but what we actually see now are generations of stunted and malnourished children," said Mr Amado Parawan, the group's health and nutrition adviser.
About one in three children under five years of age suffers from stunting, said the charity.
"Sometimes, the families may hide such children out of shame that they cannot feed them," said Mr Parawan.
"Because 'shortness' is considered a racial trait, it is not seen as a serious concern (but) stunting is more than just being short; it impacts the children's future because it hinders physical and mental growth."
Data collated by Save the Children showed that Filipino men were on average 1.6m tall, one of the shortest in South-east Asia, he said.
Men in the 10-member Asean bloc are, on average, 2.54cm taller, with Singaporean and Thai men the tallest at about 1.7m, Mr Parawan said.
The global average for men is 1.68m, he said.
International studies have shown that the Philippines has the ninth-largest proportion of stunted children, the group said.
India is the world's worst affected nation.
Manila's own surveys last year showed one in 10 Filipino families lived in extreme poverty - defined as earning 41 pesos (S$1.20) or less a day - Save the Children added.
One in four Filipino children sometimes skipped meals, the group noted, and as many as 1.5 million sometimes went a whole day without a single meal.
"These figures are sub-Saharan Africa levels of malnutrition," said Mr Ned Olney, Save the Children's country director, adding that little improvement has been seen in recent years to the situation.
He urged the government to implement measures to ensure children are well fed, especially in the first 1,000 days after birth.
Failure to address the issue of malnutrition will lead to many physically and mentally impaired people, hurting economic growth, Mr Olney warned.
Meanwhile, the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) of the United Nations (UN) said floods in Myanmar caused by heavy monsoon rains and a cyclone have destroyed crops and killed livestock and will cause food shortages if aid is not provided, though funding so far is inadequate.
Some 1.6 million people have been affected and more than 100 killed since June, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said.
Cyclone Komen, which hit Myanmar at the end of July, worsened the damage caused by the unusually heavy monsoon rains, and floodwaters have inundated a total of 566,000ha of farmland, the FAO said yesterday.
The floods and landslides across the country have destroyed 393,000ha of standing crops and 15,000ha of fish and shrimp ponds, and drowned 20,000 cattle, it said.
So far, US$24 million (S$34 million) has been provided for the flood response, according to the Financial Tracking Service, which estimates that US$75.5 million will be needed to address the needs of more than 580,000 people in the next five months.
AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS