Uzbekistan's Child Malnutrition “Success” – When to Toss Out “Spurious Statistics”
Joanna Lillis May 10, 2012
The Economist has questioned the plausibility of a study conducted by leading UK charity Save the Children, which lauded a trio of Central Asian states for winning the war on child malnutrition.
The annual State of the World’s Mothers report is backed by “spurious statistics,” The Economist says.
The study finds that Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan and Kyrgyzstan have made huge strides in reducing child malnutrition. It singles out Uzbekistan (alongside Angola) as one of “two priority countries that have made the fastest progress in reducing child malnutrition – both cut stunting rates in half in about 10 years.”
Uzbekistan topped the list of states that have made the greatest strides. Kyrgyzstan and Turkmenistan came fifth and sixth respectively.
As The Economist pointed out, half of the top six success stories identified by Save the Children are in Central Asia (while number six is North Korea). “This finding is – how can one put it politely? – counter-intuitive,” The Economist commented.
“Number one on the list is Uzbekistan, a vicious dictatorship which imprisons political opponents and has been the site of mass killings,” it continued, while Turkmenistan “had for many years one of the world’s stranger dictators [Saparmurat Niyazov] who renamed the days of the week after himself and his family.” (Turkmenistan is still run by a dictator who is fostering his own personality cult.)
The Economist suggested a flaw in the statistics, which were based on interviews in people’s homes: “It is just possible that when a total stranger shows up in an Uzbek or Turkmen village bearing a several-hundred-page long questionnaire and starts asking questions about family life, villagers conclude that the secret police is taking an unhealthy interest and tell any old lies to make them go away.”
Official statistics from Tashkent and Ashgabat should also be treated with caution, the US State Department says: Uzbekistan’s are “not consistently reliable” while Turkmenistan’s are “closely held state secrets… subject to wide margins of error.”
Save the Children’s study says that, despite successes in tackling child malnutrition, a fifth of children remain malnourished in the three Central Asian states (20 percent in Uzbekistan; 19 percent in Turkmenistan; 18 percent in Kyrgyzstan).
If the statistics are as “spurious” as The Economist suggests, child malnutrition in these three states may in fact be much, much higher.