New York, May 4, 2022 – “Thanks to the moderator, and thanks to WFP Executive Director David Beasley, FAO Director General Qu Dongyu and European Commissioner Jutta Urpilainen for leading this pivotal discussion. We’re here to take stock of a grim reality. As we have heard today, the world is once again on the brink of a global food crisis. I would like to focus my comments on the impact of this growing threat on children
Child survival depends on access to nutritious, affordable and continuously available food. Good nutrition is the foundation of children’s survival and development. Insufficient nutrition, on the other hand, is a major cause of infant mortality. In reality, almost half of the deaths of children under the age of 5 years are attributable to malnutrition†
But around the world, the cascading effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, conflict and climate crises are dramatically increasing hunger and acute malnutrition among children. As a result of the pandemic, another 100 million children live in poverty and two-thirds of households with children have lost income. The number of children not receiving regular meals has increased.
The devastating human impact of food crises
School closures have not only affected learning. They have also had an impact on children and families who rely on nutritional programs in school. Rising food prices have only made an already difficult situation worse. We now estimate that at the end of 2021, 50 million children suffered from waste, the most life-threatening form of malnutrition. We expect that number to be higher now.
In my first months as Executive Director of UNICEF, I have already seen first hand the very real and devastating human impact of food and nutrition crises. I was recently in Goma, Ethiopia, in the Horn of Africa, where the worst climate-induced emergency since 40 years threatens the life of 10 million children – including 1.7 million people who need emergency treatment for severe acute malnutrition.
I also visited a health center in rural Afghanistan, where a 25-year-old mother of five told me her family lived on a diet of bread and water. I have seen children on the brink of starvation and death in various hospitals and health centers, with their parents exhausted all their coping mechanisms.
The same deadly combination of ongoing conflict, economic collapse, rising food prices and outbreaks of preventable disease is wreaking havoc in Yemen, where at least 2.2 million children under the age of five suffer from acute malnutrition. The rapid reversal of our progress is frustrating – and tragic. But we should not lose sight of the fact that between 2000 and 2019, often in the face of severe hardship, the global effort reduced the number of malnourished children in the world by more than thirty percent.
This report shows clearly – and urgently – that we need to reinvigorate this global effort.
UNICEF calls for five key actions
First, protect access to nutritious, safe, affordable and sustainable diets. Food markets should be identified as essential services to keep workers and consumers safe in the event of a crisis. We must discourage trade bans and do more to protect food producers, processors and retailers.
Second, investments must be made to improve nutrition throughout a child’s life, starting with the nutrition of mothers and children during pregnancy, through early childhood and the school years. This means that healthcare providers and communities receive accurate information about infant formulas. We must continue to protect breastfeeding and prevent the inappropriate marketing of infant formulas. And as schools reopen, we need to expand nutritional programs in schools for vulnerable children.
Third, systems and services need to be developed for the early detection and treatment of child waste – the most dangerous form of malnutrition. At the same time, we need to expand malnutrition prevention services for children and women. Proven interventions, such as vitamin A supplementation, deworming, nutritional supplements and nutritional support for pregnant and breastfeeding mothers, are among the most cost-effective ways to save lives and support development.
Fourth, expanding social security systems to help the most vulnerable families. By providing direct support, such as money transfers, families can make ends meet during crises. They also help build resilience for the future. In turn, social protection programs can help families avoid negative coping strategies, such as child marriage or child labor.
Every child has the right to survive and thrive
Fifth, protect investment in social services. The economic impact of the pandemic continues to limit and shrink budgets, but cuts to food and food security should be considered last.
That said, we know that given these limitations, we will have to work harder to bring valuable resources to fruition. This means improving the efficiency, fairness and transparency of current allocations. We also need to mobilize additional funding, including from public and private sources.
Sixth: to protect children from malnutrition, to protect them from the effects of climate change. Children should be at the center of climate adaptation and mitigation plans – and funding for these inclusive interventions should be accessible to all countries.
Finally rebuild better. We must do more than respond to the height of a food crisis† We need to invest in improving maternal and child nutrition before, during and after acute crises.
Every child, everywhere, has the right to survive and thrive. Well-nourished children are better able to grow, learn and participate in their communities, economy and society. They are also more resistant to crises. It should not be necessary to provoke a food crisis to mobilize our energy and resources for these children. We must re-engage to accelerate the pace of progress – and work together to achieve every last child.
Thank you “.