As you scan the world situation, the great crisis that emerges is child hunger and malnutrition. For right at this moment, there are mothers in developing countries who have little or no way to provide food for their children.
It’s a desperate situation for infants as the first 1,000 days of life are critical. Without the right food, lasting physical and mental damage will occur, if not death.
The UN World Food Programme (WFP) says, “Poor nutrition is the largest single contributing factor to child mortality, more than HIV/AIDS, TB and malaria combined. It is the underlying cause of more than one-third of deaths in children under five. That’s 3.5 million a year.”
This child hunger crisis reaches many corners of the globe. WFP lists these crisis points on their web page. In Yemen, half of the children are chronically malnourished and one out of 10 does not live to reach the age of five. Half of Nepal’s children under five are stunted or chronically undernourished.
In Cambodia, almost 40 percent of children are chronically malnourished. In Pakistan infant mortality rates are as high as 97 per 1,000 live births. In Afghanistan, more than half of children under the age of five are malnourished, and micronutrient deficiencies (particularly iodine and iron) are widespread. More of these descriptions, listed by country, are available on the WFP site.
What can be done about it? It would be relatively inexpensive to provide life-saving foods like plumpy’nut and save millions of children. Why is it not happening? Why is it that every time you turn around, a food program is facing a severe funding shortage?
There is no great political interest in fighting child hunger, and with that comes lack of funding for food aid operations. This lack of funding also prevents the stability necessary to enact long-term food security for developing countries.
When political leaders ignore hunger, it causes great harm to everyone’s security. Herbert Hoover, who organized food relief after World Wars I and II, described the terror hunger brings on a social and political level. He said, ”Hunger is a silent visitor who comes like a shadow. He sits beside every anxious mother three times each day. He brings not alone suffering and sorrow, but fear and terror. He carries disorder and the paralysis of government.”
Yet this powerful force, which can make or break international peace, receives very little attention at the highest levels of government. There is some, from time to time, but it goes away quickly. It’s a case of great expectations never fulfilled.
Princess Haya Al Hussein said in an article earlier this year, “…except for the occasional rhetorical flourish, most politicians remain out of touch, uncomprehending of life for those living at the brink of starvation. They have failed to put food first in global economic development and aid funding.”
Yet, just a fraction of the world’s total military spending in a year would elevate the fight against hunger dramatically. Millions of children would be saved and the prospects for peace and economic development grow much brighter.
Next month there is a conference in Egypt being hosted by WFP’s director Josette Sheeran and Egypt’s First Lady Suzanne Mubarak. There is another conference being held almost simultaneously in London about the malnutrition crisis in Yemen. The lead-up to both of these conferences offers an opportunity for government leaders and the public to find ways to fill the food shortage gaps now existing.