The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization reports malnutrition as the largest contributor to diseases in the world.
A report by the Pulsus Group, explains that hunger, the leading cause of malnutrition, is closely related to “poor health outcomes, including a higher risk of depression and suicidal ideation in adolescents, and chronic conditions such as asthma.” In addition, nutrient deficiencies, such as iron deficiency, are according to the report, known to impair learning and cause decreased productivity in school-age children, and maternal depressive disorders.
Government response to the coronavirus pandemic must therefore include strategic welfare palliatives for all citizens, says Nigerian scholar, Dr. Chris Kwaja.
During pandemics, low-income households are more at risk of malnutrition. People tend to cope with the resulting resulting socioeconomic lockdown, by changing the quantity, quality and diversity of the food they consume. This in Kwaja’s words could cause a “new form of crisis.”
“If there is no balance between the lockdown (quarantine) and the livelihood of the people, a new form of crisis will certainly emerge – hunger and malnutrition, which will be more visible in children, women and people living with disabilities,” said Kwaja, a Senior Lecturer and Researcher at the Centre for Peace and Security Studies, Modibbo Adama University of Technology, Yola, Adamawa State.
A third of reproductive-age women are anaemic, while 39% of the world’s adults are overweight or obese and each year around 20 million babies are born underweight, says the United Nations Children Education Fund (UNICEF).
Lack of “Livelihood support” during quarantine, not only spikes the figures especially in developing countries which have the highest numbers, but also, according to Kwaja, “provides sound basis for crimes and other vices and can temper with the frail peace that’s on ground.”
Criminals, he said in an interview, will “always leverage the plights of poor people to cause havoc. They can go as far as instigating the poor and use them as shields – especially in the rural areas where you have poor farmers and herders. Criminals could hide under the name of the two to perpetrate crimes. They could otherwise leverage their social conditions to instigate the against each another, and consequently ruin the peace that has been built over time between them.”
This is why a “peace building approach” that holistically analyzes public impact, in designing government policies and programmes, is necessary to preserve peace during quarantines, said Kwaja who equally functions as a United Nations Expert.
“There are four issues we are dealing with here. Pandemics (health), governance, livelihood and Peace. Government should adopt a Peace building approach to engaging the citizens in order to ensure a wholesome support.
“The Peace building approach is one in which whatever decision government is taking, the utmost attention will be given to how such a decision will affect the citizens.
“Logistics for the security agents on duty is important. Logistics for the medical personnel as first respondents is equally important,” said Kwaja who is also Advisor in United States Institute for Peace (USIP).
Nigeria currently faces high cases of terrorism in the Northeast, armed banditry in Northwest, farner-herder conflicts in North Central and militancy in the South-South region. There have also been separatist movements in the Southeast and kidnapping in the Southwest.
The conflicts have created millions of social and economic displacements leading to high poverty in the country. The coronavirus pandemic might yet cause another fall in the already deteriorating economic standards in the country, unless careful, strategic and decisive steps are taken.