The World Bank's transformation into a more warm and cuddly organisation continues apace, with the publication today of a heavyweight report getting back to the basics of development: malnutrition. The catchily-titled report, Repositioning Nutrition as Central to Development, says malnutrition is the world's most serious health problem, with poor nutrition implicated in more than half of all child deaths worldwide, a proportion the bank says is unmatched by any infectious disease since the onset of the Black Death.

While the bank's press office dresses up the report as concerned with economic returns, highlighting the report's estimate that malnutrition cuts about 3% off annual national income, the text of the report tackles the harsh facts: that malnutrition is far more widespread in Asia than previously thought, that malnutrition isn't connected to scarcity and that malnutrition in sub-Saharan Africa is actually getting worse. India in particular, for all its recent economic success, has much to do. "Malnutrition is among the most serious health problems in the world today that has not been tackled," according to Meera Shekar, the report's lead author, writing on the bank's website. "Roughly 30% of children in the world are undernourished and in fact 60% of children, for example, who die of common diseases like malaria and diarrhea would not have died had not they not been malnourished in the first place."

The good news is the bank's rousing call to put the issue of nutrition back at the centre of the debate on development:

The unequivocal choice now is between continuing to fail, as the global community did with HIV/AIDS for more than a decade, or to finally put nutrition at the center of development so that a wide range of economic and social improvements that depend on nutrition can be realized.

The full report is here - a word of warning, it's a 270-page PDF.



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