UN official urges rich nations’ leaders to help end child malnutrition

27 April 2010

The head of the United Nations food agency today urged leaders of the Group of 8 (G8) industrialized nations to make combating child malnutrition a pillar of the their summit in Canada in June, saying poor nutrition is responsible for the death of 3.5 million children every year.

“No issue is more urgent, or more foundational to other development goals, than getting maternal and child nutrition right,” Josette Sheeran, Executive Director of the UN World Food Programme (WFP), said in an op-ed published in the Toronto Star.

Ms. Sheeran’s appeal coincides with the meeting of development ministers from the G8 in Halifax, Canada, today and tomorrow to prepare for the G8 Leaders Summit in late June in Muskoka municipality in the Canadian state of Ontario. As President of the G8 in 2010, Canada is championing an initiative to improve maternal and child health in the world’s poorest regions.

“The G8 summit can become a tipping point where the world can rally to make child malnutrition history,” said Ms. Sheeran. “We can do this, and Canada can continue to lead the way,” she added.

She noted children never recover from the mental and physical stunting that occurs if undernourished in their first two years of life. Allowing them to remain malnourished robbed them of future, she said. Globally, malnutrition affects almost 200 million children, according to the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF).

“We know that we need to ensure that the food provided is the right nutritional match for the most vulnerable people – pregnant and lactating women, children under two and those with HIV/AIDS and other life-threatening illnesses,” Ms. Sheeran added.

WFP provides 100 million people a year with food and nutrition interventions, including school meals and nutritional supplements. Last year, 80 per cent of WFP’s food aid went to women and children because they are often the most vulnerable, Ms. Sheeran said.

The World Bank estimates that about $10 billion per year would provide 13 proven malnutrition prevention and treatments to those most in need, from food fortification to targeted supplementary feeding, Ms. Sheeran noted.

Donor nations and private sector partnerships can then help catalyze home-grown solutions with critical financial backing and scientific know-how, she said. Lasting nutrition solutions, however, must be country-led, she said noting that China, Brazil, Thailand and Chile had succeeded in solving the problem of malnutrition.

“Now is the time. All that is needed is focus, our combined knowledge, political will and resources from around the world. The G8 summit can become a tipping point where the world can rally to make child malnutrition history,” Ms. Sheeran added.

Speaking at the G8 development ministers’ meeting, the UN Development Programme’s (UNDP) Administrator Helen Clark called for increased foreign aid to help poorer countries achieve the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).

“Most of the resources needed to achieve the MDGs have to be raised and allocated effectively from a country itself. Yet, well targeted and predictable ODA [official development assistance] can be catalytic for meeting the Goals. It can support countries to develop the capacities and programmes needed to meet the MDGs and to attract private investment and new sources of climate finance,” Miss Clark said.

She cited recent forecasts by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) which show that ODA levels in 2010 will be around $20 billion short, in 2004 prices, of what donors pledged at the G8 summit in Gleneagles, Scotland, in 2005.

Of that shortfall, around $2 billion is the result of lower-than-expected gross national income in donor countries owing to the global economic crisis. But close to $18 billion is the result of lower-than-promised giving by developed countries, Miss Clark said.

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