The Marshall Islands — a country of 60,000 people strewed across low-lying islands in the Pacific — has endured an acute child malnutrition epidemic for decades. Today, one-third of the nation's children are stunted due to malnourishment, with the diets of most lacking fresh produce and heavy on pre-packaged junk food.
The new funding incorporates a $12 million World Bank grant from 2019, when the Marshall Islands' Early Childhood Development Project first began. Initial plans and financing for the project's first phase, which prioritised maternal, newborn and child health and nutrition services, have been hampered by border restrictions due to COVID-19.
"The investment in the health and education of Marshallese children will contribute to a brighter future for the country,” the World Bank’s project lead Aparnaa Somanathan said at the time. “This is also representative of an increasing focus on health, nutrition and education support as a wider economic imperative for more sustainable futures for Pacific economies.”
The project's expansion into phase two will see an increase in cash transfers to all families with children under five years of age, with payments starting in August and following every two months.
The availability and quality of health and nutrition services are also expected to improve.
The links and follow-on effects between malnutrition, learning and poverty have long been established.
The condition in children is often a result of poor sanitation, a lack of clean water, infectious diseases, household food insecurity, poor breastfeeding support, overall poverty and the impact of wars and conflict on the global food system.
The impact of climate change on the frequency of droughts and cyclones significantly impacts all of the above.
"Reducing malnutrition in children and their mothers can bring substantial benefits to the country through decreasing mortality, increasing intellectual capacity and productivity, and ultimately contributing to the country’s economic development and the nation’s well-being,” UNICEF wrote in regards to the Marshall Islands in a 2017 health and nutrition report.
Similar stunting figures have been recorded across much of the Pacific.
Like the Marshall Islands, around one-third of children under five in the Solomon Islands are affected by stunted growth. Just under 30% of those under five across Vanuatu are likewise affected, while close to half of all children in Papua New Guinea have the same fate.
Around the world, malnutrition kills 1 million children annually.