Cost of living crisis and return of kwashiorkor

Nigeria has a catastrophic cost of living crisis. Everything is angling to take a pound of flesh from a sapped take-home pay that can no longer take workers home.

Nigeria’s public power system has practically collapsed. One study suggests that Nigeria’s economy runs on 64 million micro, small, medium and large power generating sets while the public power supply remains on stand-by.

With Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine pushing the cost of a barrel of oil deep into three digits, the cost of fueling Nigeria’s 64 million power generators has extracted so much from the country’s emaciating take-home pay that many are now pinching their food budget to fund power supply.

The pump price of diesel has miraculously surged to N700 per liter, up from N350 in January 2022. Even with the pump price of petrol heavily subsidised in a scandalous programme, Nigerians are spending through the nose to light their homes.

Those with petrol powered micro generators spend a minimum of N500 every night to keep their generators humming for four hours before they go to bed. That amounts to N15, 000 on internally generated power alone.

At the end of the month those with the old analogue public power meters are handed estimated bills in five digits that might take the cost of power for the month perilously close to N30, 000.

All that is taken from a take-home pay that surging inflation has reduced its value by something close to 20 per cent. When school fees, transport fares and rent are settled what is left for feeding is so meager that most of the nutritious food items that keep us healthy are removed from family budget.

Manufacturers and service providers easily pass the high cost of internally generated power to consumers thus pricing numerous items out of the reach of many homes.

Consequently, many, even in the low-middle income bracket have deleted nutritious chocolate drinks like Milo and Bournvita from their family menu. They are simply no longer affordable. The price of 1kg of Milo is perilously close to N4, 000. It was N2, 700 in the first quarter of 2021. A live chicken weighing 3kg now sells for N10, 000.

The most dangerous consequence of Nigeria’s cost of living crisis is the return of kwashiorkor, the acute severe malnutrition ailment that killed hundreds of thousands of children during Nigeria’s civil war.

Paediatric wards in Nigerian hospitals are inundated with the heart-rending sight of emaciating children with sagging buttocks, swollen tummies, hands and legs. One can count the rips of the infected infants because there is no flesh to cover them.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) and United Nations Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF), contend that two million Nigerian children are afflicted by kwashiorkor.

The WHO and UNICEF kwashiorkor figure only captures children treated in government hospitals. There are fears that almost twice that number may be dying in silence in Nigeria’s inaccessible rural communities.

Nigeria is a fertile soil for kwashiorkor. A primitive method of farming has foisted intractable food import dependence on Africa’s largest economy. The food is imported with a persistently depreciating naira thus pricing it beyond the reach of many.

A recent report by the Institute of Development Studies (IDS) captures the crisis in Nigeria’s food affordability succinctly. The report of the British think tank painted a grim picture of Nigeria’s cost of living crisis and ravaging poverty. It awarded Nigeria the second slot in the list of nations with the poorest food affordability.

The research group based its ranking on global cost of living leveraged on the monthly minimum recommended global spending on food per adult and monthly average wage.

It uses the WHO standard on the number of calories to be obtained from food that would sustain an adult in a day. WHO recommends 2, 100 calories as the minimum required to sustain an adult in a day.

Leveraging on that indubitable global standard, the British think tank draws an analogy between a country’s monthly average wage and what is required to purchase the food that would give an adult the required 2, 100 calories in a day.

The conclusion is that at the level of food inflation in Nigeria, and the average monthly wage at the moment, a worker would spend 101 per cent of his average monthly wage to purchase the food that would give him 2, 100 calories per day.

That means that a Nigerian worker’s monthly pay is not enough for food alone if he has to be healthy. War-torn Syria topped the list of the world’s poorest in food affordability as a worker would have to spend 177 per cent of his average monthly wage to purchase the food that would give him the required 2, 100 calories per day.

Besides Syria and Nigeria, Ethiopia, the Philippines, Sri-Lanka, Ghana, Indonesia, Algeria, Iran and Uzbekistan constitute the top 10 countries in the poorest in food affordability list.

Kwashiorkor or acute severe malnutrition is the product of poverty. Those who say Nigeria’s poverty has not attained catastrophic magnitude should visit the paediatric wards of Nigerian hospitals and take a count of children with protruding abdomen, swollen hands and legs. These are the first evidence of poverty.

There is a strong link between corruption and poverty. Nigeria’s poverty and the upsurge in kwashiorkor is the consequence of endemic corruption. The sky scrapers and private jets acquired with stolen public funds are responsible for the upsurge in poverty, malnutrition and the return of kwashiorkor.

Paediatricians contend that children who survive kwashiorkor cannot attain their normal intellectual and physical heights. They cannot be as brilliant as they should have been. Besides, their physical growth will be stunted.

The danger in the return of kwashiorkor is that Nigeria is breeding a new generation of diminutive dull heads. They will simply worsen insecurity. The solution is in tackling corruption to free funds for resolving the cost of living crisis.

Unmitigated corruption and gross mismanagement of resources foist poverty on Nigeria. Ukraine’s economy, before the invasion by Russia, was listed 84th in world gross domestic product (GDP) ranking where Nigeria remains the world’s 27th largest economy. Little Ukraine has 803 universities and better health facilities for its 44.3 million people than Nigeria with population of 211 million.

More than 5,000 Nigerian students who cannot secure admission in Nigeria’s 170 universities study medicine and engineering in Ukraine. That is where reduction in treasury looting frees funds for investment in what lowers the cost of living.

Ukraine has no kwashiorkor because food is affordable. Nigerian politicians need tutorials from their counterparts in Kyiv.

Related content you may like