Analysis

Thursday 24 July 2014

1,000 days to find a proper cure for world hunger

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Foreign Affairs Minister Micheal Martin write for the Irish Independent ahead of a world hunger conference that they are co-hosting today in New York

Published 21/09/2010|05:00

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Foreign Affairs Minister Micheal Martin and US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton

TO an outsider, Barisal, a district in Bangladesh, might look much the same today as it has for generations. But in recent years, it has undergone a transformation.

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There is a health clinic where children receive vitamin A drops and mothers learn about the nutritional value of breastfeeding. There is an agricultural programme that provides seeds and training to farmers, so they plant diverse crops -- which means rice is not the only food people eat. As a result of these and other programmes, the children of Barisal are much more likely to receive the nutrients they need to grow and thrive.

Barisal is proof of the progress the world has made in fighting undernutrition. We now have an array of low-cost, low-tech tools that can help children everywhere -- even in poor, remote places -- to receive effective nourishment.

Yet even though these tools exist, many children don't have access to them. Indeed, not far from Barisal, there are villages where health services are scant, and rice is plentiful but few other foods can be found. Children's bellies may be full, but their bodies are starving for nutrients. They are some of the 200 million children worldwide afflicted by undernutrition, which also contributes to more than three million child deaths every year.

Nutrition is, of course, essential at every stage in life. But there is a period during which it is most critical: the 1,000 days that start with pregnancy and continue through a child's second birthday. During those 1,000 days, a lack of adequate nutrition can cause irreversible damage.

We must step up the fight against undernutrition by bringing life-saving tools to more people, especially to pregnant women and young children.

Ireland and the United States have joined with those helping to lead that fight. Each of our countries has made the reduction of hunger and undernutrition a cornerstone of our foreign policy: Ireland is implementing its Hunger Task Force Report; while in the United States, the Feed the Future and Global Health Initiatives are under way. We are also working together in places like Malawi to co-ordinate and expand our nutrition programmes.

This week, as representatives from many nations gather in New York for the United Nations General Assembly, the two of us will co-host an event focused on child undernutrition, called '1,000 Days: Change a Life, Change a Future'.

We are calling on the global community to scale up its efforts to improve child nutrition worldwide for 1,000 days -- in recognition of that critical one-thousand-day window in human development -- with the goal of achieving measurable progress in that time.

In New York, the United Nations will unveil its Scaling Up Nutrition roadmap, to help overcome a longstanding obstacle to progress. For years, the global response to hunger and undernutrition has been fractured, with dozens of overlapping programmes in some countries. Now, developing and donor countries, multilateral organisations, NGOs, private sector companies, and civil society organisation partners are uniting behind Scaling Up Nutrition. With the help of this roadmap, we can achieve better results.

In New York, representatives from a wide range of organisations, including Concern Worldwide, will join us to pledge their commitment. We need to work on two tracks at once, by continuing to deliver emergency food aid while planting the seeds for long-term progress.

We seek a future in which emergency aid is no longer needed because we will have helped countries build sustainable agriculture and health systems. This is an ambitious goal -- one that will take far longer than 1,000 days. But with patience, persistence, and a rigorous commitment to results, progress is possible. We believe it is worth it. And we know our citizens agree.

The Irish knew the pain of hunger--the devastation that is caused when agriculture fails, and when the political response is inadequate; the imprint that famine can leave on a people for generations. Many Americans have Irish ancestors who survived the Great Irish Famine; indeed, many of those ancestors emigrated to the United States.

Ship after ship arrived in New York. Today, as we meet in New York, we will remember those ships. We will take inspiration from that time in our shared history.

And we will take an important step closer to a world in which fewer children suffer from a lack of nutrition or hunger.

Irish Independent

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