United effort needed on long-term food strategy


OPINION:An international commitment is required to focus on nutrition in response to Africa’s food crisis.

THE WORLD has come together in response to the tragedy unfolding in Djibouti, Ethiopia, Kenya and Somalia and the development community is making every effort to deliver aid as quickly as possible.

However, as we learn more about this ongoing famine that threatens the lives of more than 12 million people, there’s an underlying fact that, as long as it’s ignored, could allow such a crisis to recur.

As we develop our emergency response, we also need to consider a longer-term approach to addressing malnutrition that can help mitigate and prevent future crises.

There are dozens of quietly simmering hot spots where one poor growing season could devastate a country or a region. Too many countries manage only to keep hunger at bay while their people still suffer grievously from malnutrition. Too many children grow up lacking the nutrients needed to fend off disease or to fully develop their bodies and brains.

Globally, 200 million children suffer from malnutrition and each year it contributes to more than three million child deaths. Countries and aid organisations have long attempted to tackle the problem of malnutrition and to lessen its ability to hold back individuals and countries. But – as with many of the important problems we face – it could not be solved without a unified response involving many different groups putting aside their differences and coming together.

Fortunately, we now have that response and with it the knowledge, tools and co-ordination necessary to institute both short-term emergency responses and long-term preventive strategies.

One year ago, in recognition that our combined efforts would be much more effective than the sum of our parts, more than 100 organisations and entities signed on to and launched “Scaling Up Nutrition (Sun): A Framework for Action”.

The “aha” moment for many supporters is the realisation that nutrition is woven into almost every meaningful issue of social and economic equity both between and within countries – from health to agriculture to social protection.

No infant or child can have a fair chance at life when they are denied the nutrients that are the building blocks for healthy growth. Accordingly, Sun’s scientifically backed three areas of focus – promoting breastfeeding, increasing the intake of vitamins and minerals and employing therapeutic feeding to prevent moderate and severe malnutrition – were designed with the potential of each child in mind.

Of particular importance for receiving critical nutrients is the “1,000-day” window of opportunity during a mother’s pregnancy and until her child’s second birthday.

Since that launch, Sun has helped to generate increased commitment for better nutrition within countries and at international and regional levels. Governments facing some of the highest burdens of malnutrition – 20 countries and counting – have now committed to action and many have set bold goals and specific targets.

Sun unites their efforts with a growing global coalition of partners who are committed to working together to concretely ease suffering, reduce deaths and cap the drain on human and economic potential that is the cost of malnutrition.

The successes over the past year have been not only from linking existing initiatives and bringing together networks, but because of Sun’s country-led approach. The developing countries working to scale up nutrition have made the health of their people and the future of their nations a priority through commitment and action. By working in partnership, we can help low-income countries develop and implement nutrition plans that both help their people thrive today and include the planning and crop diversity necessary to weather the destructive forces of droughts, floods and other calamities.

In the Horn of Africa, we are seeing the full spectrum of the impact of malnutrition – from our personal compassion for a seemingly lifeless child, to neighbouring governments’ security concerns for the thousands of migrating refugees.

While proper nutrition cannot ensure good health, malnutrition and hunger exacerbate every major health threat – from complications with birth and pregnancy to diarrhoeal diseases, living with HIV/Aids, and pneumonia.

As leaders of donor agencies, we have prioritised nutrition and call on others to join us. There is no better investment in the potential of individuals, the growth of countries and the security of the world than to ensure every nation has a comprehensive plan for nutrition.

A major UN-sponsored conference on hunger takes place on the fringes of the general assembly in New York today.