WASHINGTON (Oct. 11, 2019) – Reps. Dwight Evans (D-PA) and Andy Levin (D-MI) traveled to Bangladesh with CARE to see how vital U.S. investments in combatting malnutrition and stunting are helping to build more resilient and healthy Bangladeshi and refugee communities. The delegation was hosted by CARE’s Chief Operating Officer Tjada McKenna and joined by a congressional staffer and representatives from the Eleanor Crook Foundation, the Center for Strategic International Studies and Congressional Research Service.
With one of the fastest growing economies in the world, Bangladesh has experienced an incredible economic boom in recent years – with a sustained GDP growth rate of six to seven percent over the last 10 years. This growth resulted in Bangladesh moving from low income to lower-middle income status in 2015. In recent years, Bangladesh has made significant progress toward reducing maternal and infant mortality, decreasing rates of poverty and attaining gender parity in primary and secondary education. However, not all have benefitted from the economic development of the country.
Today, more than a third of Bangladeshis are food insecure – 36 percent of children under five years of age suffer from chronic malnutrition and 14 percent of these children suffer from acute malnutrition and wasting. These high rates of malnutrition are driven by numerous factors, including loss of arable land and severe climate events, a lack of access to clean water and sanitation and a lack nutritional education and poor dietary diversity. In addition, many gender norms tend to devalue the health, education and decision-making power of women and girls in Bangladesh. As a result, adolescent girls have the highest rate of malnutrition in the country. The practice of child marriage is another compounding factor driving poor nutrition outcomes as well, as girls who tend to marry young are more likely to give birth to children with low birth weight and who will experience stunting and poor nutritional outcomes. Although the rate of early union has declined in recent years, Bangladesh still has the fourth highest rate of child marriage in the world.
All of these strains were further compounded in 2017, when Bangladesh received one of the largest influxes of refugees in the world. Within a span of five months at the end of 2017, more than 600,000 ethnic Rohingya’s fled horrific violence in Myanmar to seek protection in southeast Bangladesh. The country currently hosts nearly one million Rohingya refugees, one of the largest refugee populations in the world, living among 27 camps in the Cox’s Bazar region of Bangladesh. Those fleeing violence are some of the most vulnerable to malnutrition, and recent studies have shown that rates of severe and moderate acute malnutrition in the camps are almost 30 percent.
“CARE has been operating in Bangladesh since 1949 and is proud to be working alongside its people, other NGO partners, the U.S. government and the government of Bangladesh to end poverty and injustice. U.S. support for this lifesaving work is critical and we are thankful to the Congressmen, our delegation, and our hosts for giving us a look at how that assistance is saving lives and tackling the root causes of malnutrition in Bangladesh,” said Tjada McKenna.
On this week-long Learning Tour, the delegation saw firsthand the role that U.S. investments have in combating malnutrition in Bangladesh, particularly in a complex refugee setting. The delegation learned how nutrition-specific interventions, in the form of direct therapeutic feeding, are bringing refugee children back from the brink in the Rohingya refugee camps in Cox’s Bazar. The group also saw how multi-sectoral approaches are working to create sustainable gains, prevent malnutrition and stunting, and build resilience among some of the most vulnerable. The delegation also met with Dr. Md Shah Nawaz, Directorate General of Health Services under the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare for Bangladesh, to discuss how the Bangladeshi government can make more progress in combatting and preventing severe acute and chronic malnutrition in the country.