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Currency devaluation impact on nutritional status in Brazzaville, Congo

Summary of Published paper

Currency devaluations can have a dramatic impact on peoples entitlement and in extreme cases contribute to nutritional crises. Devaluations are often carried out as part of economic structural adjustment programmes promoted by international organisations like the World Bank and IMF. International financial assistance in the form of grants or loans from these organisations may be contingent upon recipient countries undertaking economic reforms like devaluation or reducing expenditure in social sectors. These macro-economic 'adjustments' may be implemented overnight hitting the poorest members of society really hard. Yet, the impact of these initiatives on food security and resulting nutritional status are rarely measured. Recent events in Brazzaville, Congo underline the potentially rapid adverse impact devaluations can have upon nutritional security in developing countries.

The African Financial Community (CFA) franc was devalued by 50% on the 12th, January of 1994 in 14 subsaharan African countries. A survey1 was conducted in 1996 to evaluate changes in feeding practices for infants, the quality of complementary foods, and the nutritional status of children and their mothers compared to a survey undertaken in 1993 prior to devaluation. The 1996 survey was in two districts of Brazzaville where the earlier survey had been conducted and involved a representative sample of 4206 households with a child aged 4-23 months.

Results

Daily food expenditure increased considerably between 1993-6 with numerous households declaring that they had entirely abandoned certain food that had become too expensive, e.g. chicken, bush meat and fresh-water fish. Although breastfeeding and complementary feeding rates had remained stable the complementary foods given to infants had declined in quality, e.g. gruels were being made from local ingredients rather than imported flours as occurred previously and therefore had half the energy density.

The anthropometric indicators showed that young children had undergone a substantial deterioration in their nutritional status. Between 1993-6 the prevalence of stunting increased from 12.1% to 15.5% which was highly significant. There was also a statistically significant increase in the prevalence of wasting from 6.0% to 8.8%. The mean body mass index of mothers decreased by 1.28 kg/m2. This is significant and corresponds to a weight loss of nearly 3.3 kg in three years for a woman of average height. As a consequence the number of women exhibiting thinness (body mass index < 18.5kg/m2) increased very significantly from 11.3% to 15.6%.

The authors of the study acknowledge that the impact of the devaluation on nutritional status would not only have resulted from less access to food, but also poorer health care and general caring practices as women became increasingly engaged in income generation activities to offset reduced spending power. The authors also concluded that a more accurate assessment of the specific effects of the devaluation on the nutritional status of urban populations would be provided by comparing the results obtained here with those in another large capital in the CFA zone.

Show footnotes

1Martin-Prevel, Y et al (2000). Deterioration in the nutritional status of young children and their mothers in Brazzaville, Congo, following the 1994 devaluation of the CFA franc. Bulletin of the World Health Organisation, 2000, vol 78, pp 108-116.

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Currency devaluation impact on nutritional status in Brazzaville, Congo. Field Exchange 10, July 2000. p4. www.ennonline.net/fex/10/currency