Jakarta. East Nusa Tenggara has caught the nation’s attention again following a report of child deaths due to malnutrition, an indication that there has been no improvement whatsoever in the living conditions of kids in the province.
East Nusa Tenggara’s Health Agency on Wednesday reported that between January and May this year, as many as 1,918 children under five years old were diagnosed with malnutrition, while 21,134 others were assessed with stunting.
Of the malnourished, 11 died.
The malnutrition data came from regular weighing of 330,000 children from across the province.
Agency official Isbandrio said malnutrition cases were reported across nearly all 22 districts and municipalities in the province — with the districts of Southwest Sumba, Kupang, South Mideast and North Mideast contributing the most cases.
But the actual malnourishment and stunting figures are expected to be even higher, as data from the Ministry of Health’s in 2013 said there were more than 630,000 children under five in the province.
Isbandrio said most of the malnourished children lived in outlying regions. With infrastructure and transportation remaining largely underdeveloped in the eastern Indonesia province, it has been difficult for the government’s health programs to reach residents.
“We also believe that this has happened because of mothers’ poor knowledge about nutrition,” he added.
“And the situation has been made worse with a long drought since 2014, which has inflicted crop failures among farmers.”
Agency head Steaf Bria Seran, meanwhile, believes that poverty — which remains a significant social issue in East Nusa Tenggara — has been “the root of the problem."
Last year, East Nusa Tenggara reported 15 deaths from 3,351 malnutrition cases. Stunting, meanwhile, affected 23,963 children.
Long-unaddressed cases of malnutrition and stunting in eastern Indonesia became a topic of discussion during an event hosted by the Regional Representatives Council (DPD) in Jakarta on Wednesday.
Council member Ibrahim Agustinus Medah said East Nusa Tenggara had a long history of unaddressed malnourishment issues.
The province has kept reporting new cases every year for the past 15 years, he said.
Ibrahim, whose electoral district is the province in the spotlight, said the problem could easily be solved had only the central government paid serious attention on it.
He gave the example of how the government could issue a regulation to encourage productive use of at least one million hectares of idle lands in the province.
“By just making productive use of the idle lands, the locals’ income may increase, and the people in East Nusa Tenggara will be able to afford food, with better quality,” said Ibrahim.
But malnutrition is not exclusive to eastern Indonesia.
The administration of Banten, which is just west of Jakarta, for example, raised concerns last year over malnutrition cases in the province.
The Banten Health Agency reported 1,433 malnourished children in 2014 out of 1.1 million children under five in the province, according to local daily Radar Banten.
The United Nations Children's Fund (Unicef) last week also voiced concerns over malnutrition and stunting problems in Indonesia.
Unicef’s representative to Indonesia Gunilla Olsson said the number of stunted children in the archipelago remained very high at 37 percent.
“This means almost nine million children under 5 years of age are too short for their age and at risk of not developing to their full physical and cognitive potential,” Olsson said, adding that Indonesia’s rate was similar to much less developed countries, including in sub-Saharan Africa.
She also highlighted the East Nusa Tenggara case.
“These national averages often mask an ever grimmer reality and there are stark disparities within Indonesia … For example, in parts of East Nusa Tenggara, stunting rates exceed 50 percent.”