By J Nastranis
NEW YORK (IDN) - Two among a spate of events accompanying the 71st session of the UN General Assembly have underlined that the Zero Hunger Challenge, launched in 2012 by Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, and the Decade of Action on Nutrition, announced in July 2016, are critical to implementing Sustainable Development Goals.
According to the UN, almost 800 million people go to bed hungry every night and one in three people worldwide – nearly 2.5 billion – suffer from at least one form of malnutrition, ranging from hunger to obesity to a lack of critical nutrients.
Some 159 million children under the age of five are 'stunted' – meaning they have a low height for their age. Another 50 million children in that age bracket are 'wasted' – in other words, they have low weight compared to their height. At the same time, some 1.9 billion people are overweight, of whom 600 million are obese.
There is a gender dimension to this, too. Malnutrition continues to disproportionately affect women and girls, who often forego food for male family members or lack the income to secure adequate nutrition for themselves. Estimates suggest that maternal and child under-nutrition alone cost up to 11 percent of GDP (gross domestic product), as malnutrition in early life often results in ill health in adulthood.
Well-nourished children, on the other hand, are 33 percent more likely to escape poverty as adults. This means that investing in nutrition has significant potential to break endemic poverty cycles and boost economic development by allowing people to live healthy, productive lives.
Against this backdrop, UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) Director-General José Graziano da Silva said on September 20 at an event at the General Assembly celebrating the Decade of Action on Nutrition that the ten years running until 2025 will be a critical time for action to build healthy and sustainable food systems and end malnutrition in all its forms.
"The purpose of the Decade of Action on Nutrition is to continue to draw the world`s attention to the importance of combatting malnutrition," he said and reminded governments of the commitments they made at the Second International Conference on Nutrition (ICN2) in 2014. He called on them to transform those commitments into action through national policies and programmes. Better governance on nutrition globally, he stressed, "starts at country level".
Graziano da Silva added: "FAO has maintained a great synergy with WHO in leading the efforts in the fight against all forms of malnutrition. WHO is the lead in nutrition and FAO is here to complement that work. FAO has developed a work plan focused on the promotion of healthy food and healthy diets through nutritional education and the transformation of food systems."
As with ICN2, stewardship of the Decade of Action lies with FAO and the World Health Organization (WHO), who together will focus their efforts on two main objectives.
One is assisting governments in building national policies and programs that advance nutrition. The other is to align the efforts of existing global initiatives and social movements towards common goals.
To support concrete action on nutrition programs, both agencies will further organize special meetings to strengthen countries' technical capacities to tackle new nutrition challenges. One example of this is a symposium on Sustainable Food Systems for Healthy Diets and Improved Nutrition to be held in Rome on December 1-2, 2016.
At an event at the General Assembly, the heads of FAO and two other Rome-based food and agriculture agencies assured Secretary-General Ban that they would maintain momentum to reach the ambitious Zero Hunger target by 2030.
The heads of FAO, the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) and the World Food Programme (WFP) thanked him for his personal commitment and leadership in challenging the world to reach Zero Hunger.
“Many have responded to the Zero Hunger Challenge,” the Secretary-General said. “As I end my term in office, I am asking FAO, WFP and IFAD to take my Challenge forward. I am confident they will not rest until Zero Hunger is a reality.”
FAO Director-General Graziano da Silva, IFAD President Kanayo F. Nwanze and the WFP Executive Director Ertharin Cousin committed their organizations to take over the Zero Hunger Challenge and pursue its goals.
Speaking ahead of the 'Pathways to Zero Hunger' event on September 22, sponsored by the three agencies, the UN Global Compact and the office of the Secretary-General’s youth envoy Ahmad Alhendawi, FAO Director-General Graziano da Silva said:
"There was a time when food security, nutrition, rural livelihoods, and sustainable agriculture were viewed as separate tasks, as the responsibility of different actors, and with different purposes.
“The success of the Zero Hunger pioneered in Brazil and adopted and adapted in countries throughout the world show that these issues should be tackled together, in an all out effort involving governments, international institutions, family farmers, civil society and the private sector.”
WFP Executive Director Ertharin Cousin said: “The Secretary-General has always urged us to work as partners and build a truly global movement towards Zero Hunger. His leadership is an inspiration and we in Rome must now play an even greater role to generate momentum and strengthen partnerships to realize his vision of a world free from hunger.”
In Rome, ahead of the New York event, IFAD President Kanayo F. Nwanze said, “With almost 800 million people going to bed hungry every night, it is vital that we build on the momentum generated by the Zero Hunger Challenge and the Secretary-General. Together we can deliver zero hunger, but only if we focus on rural areas of developing countries where most of the world’s poorest and hungriest people live.”
The Zero Hunger Challenge calls on leaders, businesses and civil society to step up efforts to end hunger in our lifetimes. It is based around five objectives: access to enough food and a healthy diet for all people, all year round; an end to malnutrition in all its forms; sustainable food systems form production to consumption; an end to rural poverty -- doubling smallholder productivity and incomes; adapting food systems to eliminate loss and waste.
FAO leads international efforts to defeat hunger. It assists developing countries and countries in transition to modernize and improve agriculture, forestry and fisheries practices and ensure good nutrition for all. The organization focuses special attention on developing rural areas, home to 70 percent of the world's poor and hungry people.
IFAD invests in rural people, empowering them to reduce poverty, increase food security, improve nutrition and strengthen resilience. Since 1978, it has provided over US$17.6 billion in grants and low-interest loans to projects that have reached about 459 million people. IFAD is an international financial institution and a specialized United Nations agency.
WFP is the world's largest humanitarian agency fighting hunger worldwide, delivering food assistance in emergencies and working with communities to improve nutrition and build resilience. Each year, WFP assists some 80 million people in around 80 countries. [IDN-InDepthNews – 22 September 2016]
Photo: Children's hands hurry to the lunch cooked by Artou and Fatime: rice and fish. Village of Tagal, Lake Chad region, Chad. UNICEF/ Tremeau
IDN is flagship agency of the International Press Syndicate.