UN Food Summit Could Miss Critical Target: 55 Million Malnourished Kids

Grappling with the food crisis: momentum exists for agricultural investments; is acute malnutrition being sidelined?

If next week’s Madrid Food Summit does not come up with a concrete implementation and funding plan focused on malnutrition, 55 million children under five will continue to face life-threatening malnutrition, according to global humanitarian organizations Action Against Hunger | ACF International and Doctors Without Borders / Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF).

While prices for basic food commodities have fallen back to levels experienced at the end of 2006, childhood malnutrition—caused by the lack of foods rich in nutrients, vitamins, and minerals—continues to claim the lives of almost 10,000 children every day.

Today, even though the most deadly form of severe acute malnutrition can be effectively treated, only one out of ten affected children gets the UN-recommended treatment with ready-to-use therapeutic food. As a first step, the two NGOs urge the summit to ensure that all severely malnourished children have access to treatment by 2012.

“If Ban Ki-moon and José Luis Zapatero want this summit to rise above the level of a talking shop they must insist that food aid changes and that a new mechanism is created to support the 50 most affected countries to address childhood malnutrition,” said Stéphane Doyon, Head of MSF’s Nutrition Campaign.

Despite better knowledge, international and national food aid mainly consists of little more than cereal porridges of maize or rice, amounting to the equivalent of bread and water. These do not meet the minimum nutritional needs of vulnerable children between 6 months and three years of age.

“National governments, donors and the World Health Organization need to urgently put new policies and funding in place to implement new food aid standards,” said Olivier Longué, Executive Director of ACF-Spain. “We cannot continue to provide food aid that we would not give to our own children.”

Appropriate nutrient-rich food for small children will make nutrition programs more expensive. MSF and ACF estimate that 3 billion euros are needed immediately to adequately address acute malnutrition worldwide.

“This money will be well spent. If we provide young children with appropriate food we can prevent millions of kids from deteriorating to the point of severe, life-threatening malnutrition,” said Olivier Longué. “Without a concrete commitment to tackling malnutrition, Millennium Development Goals (MDG) 1 and 4, aimed at reducing child mortality and the number of people affected by hunger, will never be achieved. Hunger and malnutrition are the indisputable priorities of mankind, the basic right for human dignity.”

Although the UN came up with a Global Action plan last July, there is still no mechanism to help countries set up effective nutrition programs.

“If a developing country wants to address HIV/AIDS or Malaria, it knows where to go to for technical and financial support,” said Stéphane Doyon. “To combat child malnutrition, no such international support exists today.”

During 2006 and 2007 MSF and ACF treated more than 380,000 malnourished children.

Notes to editors:

When riots in many places brought into sharp relief the impact of soaring food prices around the world UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon in April 2008 established a Task Force on the Global Food Security Crisis. Two months later, at the World Food Security Summit in Rome, world leaders pledged USD $12.3 billion to tackle hunger; to date only USD $1 billion has been donated.

In July 2008, the Task Force released an Action Plan, the Comprehensive Framework for Action. The follow-up meeting will be held in Madrid during 26 and 27 January and is hosted by Prime Minister Zapatero of Spain.


Donate Now. Help Save Lives.

Help us save lives, empower communities, and ensure more children can grow up strong.