The United Nations today marked World Food Day, seeking answers and solutions to a searing question: why are there 850 million chronically malnourished people in a world with enough resources to feed all, 400 million of them hungry children whose lives will be forever blighted by lack of nutrition in their first months?
“In a world which has the means to feed us all, this continued suffering is unconscionable,” Secretary-General Kofi Annan said in a message.
“Many countries, including those most in need, have not allocated sufficient resources to farming and rural development,” he added, underscoring that the Day’s theme this year is ‘Investing in agriculture for food security.’
“There is a need to reverse this trend, and to channel increased public and private resources towards agricultural activities. Such investment must reach beyond infrastructure and irrigation systems to fund broader human development goals, especially the education of rural women and girls who constitute the backbone of most agrarian economies.”
UN World Food Programme (WFP) Executive Director James Morris stressed that new research has shown yet again that the rapid development of the brain, dependent on good nutrition, during the early months and years of a child’s life is crucial and influences learning, behaviour and health throughout the life cycle.
“Given that 70 per cent of brain development occurs in the first two years of our lives, malnutrition in early childhood can have a devastating effect. Even before they can walk and talk, these kids are already behind the curve,” he said.
Calling on the affluent to do more for the poor, he added: “There’s nothing wrong with wanting the best for your own children – it would be unnatural to wish otherwise. But next time you upgrade your child’s laptop or book those extra tuition sessions, spare a thought for the millions of children whose fingers will never touch a keyboard. They will be lucky if they even learn to read and write or do basic arithmetic.
“We can make a difference. There is more than enough food in the world,” he said, noting that Official Development Assistance has been rising steadily for several years and now tops $100 billion. “We can afford to help, but we need to develop a food first policy – poverty cannot be eliminated until hunger and malnutrition are laid to rest. And one way to start would be to prevent hunger from cheating children of hope.”
Other UN agencies joined in the appeal for action. “Increasing the volume of public investment in agriculture but also making it more effective are of absolute necessity,” UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) Director-General Jacques Diouf said.
FAO launched a new global education project to raise awareness about hunger and the right to food among children and young people around the world, a cartoon-style story book entitled ‘The Right to Food: A Window on the World,’ produced together with the World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts.
The UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) stressed that under-nutrition remains a major killer of children under five, contributing to approximately 50 per cent of the more than 10 million child deaths every year. But it also held out a ray of hope, noting that if it is detected early, children can be effectively treated at home and in communities, without being admitted to health facilities, sometimes miles away from their homes.
“With the addition of community-based treatment and new technology, much more can now be done to reach undernourished children and to address this important cause of child mortality,” UNICEF Executive Director Ann M. Veneman said.