The president of the World Bank has warned he will name and shame countries that fail to tackle the malnourishment and poor growth of their children, as part of a mission to rid the world of stunting.
Jim Yong Kim, the former physician who heads the Bank, told the Guardian he would take to the podium at the World Economic Forum in Davos every year to point the finger at governments who failed to live up to promises to tackle a scourge affecting tens of millions of children.
Kim said stunting – which refers to children with a height considerably below the average for their age – was a humanitarian disaster but also an economic issue that held back nations. Malnutrition, the lack of stimulation and toxic environments take their toll on children’s brain development, modern neuroscience shows.
For the sake of their children but also their countries’ future prosperity in a world that increasingly needs an educated workforce with technological skills, governments must take action, said Kim, adding that equality of opportunity was meaningless when children started with such disadvantage. The problem is huge. In India 38.7% of children are stunted, in Pakistan 45% and in the Democratic Republic of the Congo around 43%.
“Everyone puts all their eggs in the equality of opportunity basket,” said Kim. “But we’re essentially lying when 25% of children in the world are stunted. Inequality is baked into the brains of 25% of all children before the age of five. So the only way that we can realistically say there is equality of opportunity is if we bring stunting down to zero.”