Despite global efforts to address food security, chronic childhood malnutrition has been largely overlooked, putting almost half a billion children at risk of permanent damage in the next 15 years, Save the Children said in a new report released Wednesday.
“Malnutrition is a largely hidden crisis, but it afflicts one in four children around the world,” said Carolyn Miles, President of Save the Children. “It wreaks lifelong damage and is a major killer of children.” Every hour of every day, 300 children die because of malnutrition, according to the report titled “A Life Free from Hunger: Tackling Child Malnutrition.”
“It’s time for a paradigm shift. The world can no longer afford to wait until visibly emaciated children grab headlines to inspire the action these children need and deserve,”Miles said in a statement.
While addressing food security, world leaders have galvanized much-needed support to boost agricultural productivity, but they have yet to make nutrition central to their efforts. In 2009, President Obama helped spearhead the L’Aquila Food Security Initiative, which inspired $22 billion in pledges at the G8 and G20 meetings. According to Save the Children, only 3 percent of these pledges and less than 1 percent of pledges fulfilled to date have targeted nutrition.
“Investment in agriculture is clearly important to making sure production keeps up with a growing population,” said Miles. “But let’s not forget, right now the world produces enough food to feed everybody, and yet one third of children in developing countries are malnourished. Clearly, just growing more food is not the answer.”
“The United States has shown great leadership on nutrition, but now must call on other powerful nations to make it a global priority,” she added.
The report lays out six recommendations to help make the transformation needed in nutrition:
- Make malnutrition visible: Chronic malnutrition is a hidden killer that kills slowly and doesn’t appear on death certificates. In order to make the deaths of these children count and to make governments accountable for preventing them, there must be an agreed global target for a reduction in stunting in the countries with the highest burden.
- Invest in direct interventions.
- Fill the health worker gap: There is a critical shortage of at least 3.5 million doctors, nurses, midwives and community health workers, who are vital in delivering the direct interventions that can improve nutrition.
- Protect families from poverty: Many of the best examples of progress in tackling malnutrition have come from countries that have invested in effective social protection policies that reach vulnerable families.
- Harness agriculture to help tackle malnutrition: Governments must support smallscale farmers and female farmers, and ensure that making a positive impact on nutrition is an explicit objective of agriculture policies, by focusing on projects that are designed to improve children’s diet — for example, home gardening or education projects that focus on nutrition.
- Galvanise political leadership: Raising the profile of malnutrition requires a build-up of political momentum to galvanise change.