Fragile Environment, Seasonality, and Maternal and Childhood Undernutrition in Bangladesh
Mahfuzur Rahman, A.N.
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Spatial distribution of poverty in Bangladesh shows that poverty is concentrated in ecologically unfavourable areas. Recently, the issue of spatial distribution of undernutrition has emerged as a matter of concern as well, considering the growing evidence of the strong persistence of existing inequalities.Therefore, whether ecological differences have affected nutritional outcomes is becoming an important issue for research. This paper aims to understand whether spatial and seasonal variations affect maternal and childhood undernutrition in Bangladesh. The study first tests the hypothesis whether agricultural and household incomes are same across different agro-ecological environments. It then carries out an in-depth analysis of the effect of unfavourable ecologies on maternal and child malnutrition. In the results, panel data analysis showed that household income is not equal across agro-ecology; the fragility of the environment may thus affect the household’s ability to access food, which may have negative influence on the nutritional status of mothers and children. Coastal areas have less dependence on agriculture, particularly on cultivation which diminished over time. Per capita income has been increasing in coastal areas, led by remittance growing at 8 per cent per year against 6 per cent in other areas. Regression analysis shows that a household in coastal zones earns 19 per cent lower than one in favourable zones. Although farm practices are lower in unfavourable areas, the deficiency is compensated by increased non-farm incomes. The results from the Food Security Nutrition Surveillance Projects (FSNSP) data found that overall the rate of stunting and wasting prevalence were 36 per cent and 11.7 per cent respectively. Among the mothers, nearly 28 per cent suffered from chronic energy deficiencies. The study found that highly significant regional heterogeneity in undernutrition exists in Bangladesh; alarmingly high levels prevail in the Haor Basin and coastal belt areas. The study also found significantly higher rates of underweight and wasting prevailing in the monsoon season compared to the two harvest seasons (post-Aman and post-Aus) among children under five. Month of birth failed to show any significant association with the nutrition outcome of the children. In order to determine the most effective strategies for accelerating reduction in undernutrition, it is important that the determinants of undernutrition are known. The findings of this study imply the importance of bringing geographical location and seasonal thinking back into the various current debates on hunger and nutrition.