Afghanistan is raising a stunted generation whose hobbled development could spell disaster for the country's feeble economy and undermine the impact of billions of dollars in aid poured into health, education and other areas.
More than half of Afghan girls and boys suffer damage to their minds and bodies that cannot be undone because they are poorly nourished in the crucial first two years of life, doctors and other experts say. The finding raises serious questions about the legacy of more than 10 years of western involvement in Afghanistan.
"After the age of two years, stunting is largely irreversible, and has an impact on growth and development and cognitive function," says Carrie Morrison from the World Food Programme. "Over the longer term, it can have a very damaging effect on the national economy. Young people are not able to attain what they should be able to attain. Women who marry young and are stunted themselves give birth to a small infant and the cycle goes on."
Children who are not getting enough nutrients from their food suffer from what is known as chronic malnutrition. The problem afflicts poor countries worldwide, but in Afghanistan it is particularly widespread and persistent.