26 October 2012

SUN Partners Stress Bottom-Up Approach to Ending Hunger

For the majority of human history, the story of hunger has been one consisting of a lack of food. As that reality changes, attention is now turning to the challenge of malnutrition. Famine and hunger are not issues of the past, the famine in southern Somalia serves as a stark reminder that some countries are not prepared to handle weather shocks like drought.

The number of people who suffer chronic undernourishment stands at 870 million, roughly one in eight people. The data comes from a UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) report earlier this month that employed new estimates that comes under the previous estimate of 1 billion people.

"In today's world of unprecedented technical and economic opportunities, we find it entirely unacceptable that more than 100 million children under five are underweight, and therefore unable to realize their full human and socio-economic potential, and that childhood malnutrition is a cause of death for more than 2.5 million children every year," say the respective Heads of FAO, IFAD and WFP, José Graziano da Silva, Kanayo F. Nwanze and Ertharin Cousin in the report’s forward. 

The number of hungry people living in developing countries fell to 14.9% in 2012 from 23.2% in 1992. A pace that will fall short of the MDG target on hunger. "If the average annual hunger reduction of the past 20 years continues through to 2015, the percentage of undernourishment in the developing countries would reach 12.5 percent - still above the MDG target of 11.6 percent, but much closer to it than previously estimated," the report says.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon
A high-level panel convened by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon brought together public, private and non-government partners under the banner of the Scaling up Nutrition (SUN) movement. “Taking action on malnutrition is the single most cost-effective means of addressing development goals,” said Anthony Lake, Executive Director of UNICEF and chair of the SUN movement lead group.

The SUN movement was launched in 2010 as a call to action for the scaling of solutions that target malnutrition. Rather than develop frameworks to impose on countries, the SUN Movement and its partners stress the importance of country leadership. “At the end of the day, the transformation has to take place at the country level,” said Nigerian Finance Minister Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala in her remarks at the event. “We must own this agenda.” 

UNDP head Helen Clark framed ending malnutrition in terms of overall development. “Access is not only about producing one's on food,” she said. “It is about being able to have the income to access it.” UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon agreed with Clark in outlining the importance of families having the ability to purchase safe and nutritious food for themselves and their children. 

Children stood at the forefront of the discussions due to the vital role nutrition plays on child development. Research shows that the first 1,000 days are vital to the development of children. By not receiving proper nutrients and food, children are at an extreme risk of complications that can have life-long effects. 

The WHO estimated in 2011 that 165 million children under the age of five were considered stunted, 101 million were underweight and wasted (combination of underweight and height). The event speakers all balanced the need for country ownership within the guise of collective accountability. “For far too long nutrition has been a missed opportunity because it has been working in isolation,” said WHO director Margaret Chan who called on SUN members to work together to support each other in malnutrition alleviation efforts. 

Donor partners stressed their need to continue supporting the work of SUN countries. USAID Administrator Shah highlighted the collaboration between USAID, the NGO CARE, the Bangladeshi government and 40 local organizations to reduce childhood malnutrition by 30%. The gains made through the partnership will be made available through a report card from USAID’s Feed the Future program, said Shah. 

Gains against malnutrition are of the utmost importance stressed each of the event participants. “The poorest need to know they can count on social protection that will not allow them to go hungry,” said Ban. Accomplishing the end of hunger for SUN Movement partners will take the shape of a bottom-up approach that will allow each country to determine what is the best way to address the problem rather than apply a one-size-fits-all development approach.