The Marshall Islands, with funding from the World Bank, is this month launching a big intervention aimed at reducing a high rate of malnutrition and growth stunting among children in the country. Photo: Giff Johnson

MAJURO, 13 JUNE 2022 (RNZ PACIFIC)—Ongoing efforts to address a child malnutrition crisis in the Marshall Islands is being boosted with funding from the World Bank.

Health research by UNICEF and the Marshall Islands government has found that most Marshallese children do not eat enough fruit and vegetables and the average primary school child lived off a diet heavy on packaged junk food like donuts and pancakes, instant noodles, and canned meat.

A total of US$30 million has been approved by the bank for two early childhood projects aimed at improving children’s diets.

According to national health data one third of all children in the Marshall Islands are malnourished.

It’s a critical health crisis with flow-on effects to learning which can lead to a life long poverty trap.

To help improve the situation for children the World Bank’s resident representative Degi Young said the project will support the continuation of programmes focusing on early childhood development, health home visits, boosting attendance in pre-schools, and increasing family support.

“This is a social protection activity and it ensures for children in all Marshall Islands, there is going to be cash to help in the first 1,000 days of childhood.

2The other aspect for this project is that for mothers, we have a certain programme for when they are pregnant to ensure they have a healthy pregnancy,” she said.

The first phase of this project, ECD 1, began in 2019 under the former President of the Marshall islands Hilda Heine with a US$12 million grant from the World Bank.

And while there had been plans to create a second project, RNZ Pacific’s Marshall Islands correspondent Giff Johnson said the first was hampered by the pandemic and the difficulty in bringing people into the country.

“Everything’s been jammed up because Marshall Islands is Covid-free and that’s because of the border shutdown.

“The consequence of the border shutdown is all these donor-funded things have been backed up for months, even years.”

That said, funding for the new project will start being rolled out soon and the Marshall Islands Early Childhood Development coordinator Fred Muller said they will be monitoring progress over the next five years.

“We are starting the registration of early years of families on June 13 and the payment will be in August, and then after that every two months,” said Johnson.

“We then have an information system in place, where we will track the money and do a monetary and evaluation system; it’s a five-year project.”

A national survey conducted in the 1990s by UNICEF and the Marshall Islands government showed poor nutrition caused stunting in 35 percent of children.

Through the early childhood development projects health authorities are hoping to see an improvement on those figures in the coming years….PACNEWS

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