Current global crises deepening hunger worldwide, warns UN agency

Fighting hunger

28 May 2009 – The current economic, food, energy and climate crises are deepening global hunger, the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) said today, urging greater efforts to help people improve their health and their lives.

“We are facing one crisis after another, one on top of the other, in recent years,” Sheila Sisulu, WFP’s Deputy Executive Director for Hunger Solutions, told reporters at UN Headquarters in New York. “The effects of these crises are disproportionately affecting the poorest and most vulnerable – those who are least responsible for the crises.”

Ms. Sisulu said that not only have the numbers of people suffering from malnutrition increased due to the multiple crises but the effects on those who were already hungry and suffering from micronutrient deficiencies have been significant.

“The crises have broadened and deepened the extent of hunger and malnutrition in the world,” she said, adding that hunger “wrecks people’s lives [and] their health.”

She also noted that hunger also reduces productivity and diminishes the capacity to learn, and that the effects are often irreversible, especially when they affect the very young.

“We have an absolute crucial window of opportunity during pregnancy and the first 24 months of a child’s life to prevent stunting,” she said. “Stunted at two years of age, means stunted for life, with large long-term consequences in terms of health, education and productivity.”

Ms. Sisulu called for urgent action to fund safety net programmes that focus on providing food with the right nutrients to all children in need, especially children under two.

She pointed to a joint WFP and UN Economic Commission for Latin American and the Caribbean (ECLAC) study which highlighted that the cost of hunger is estimated in some countries to be as high as 11 per cent of gross domestic product.

“The impact of the current crises on hunger and malnutrition is big. The cost of hunger and malnutrition is as big. But the good news is that the benefits of fighting hunger and malnutrition can be even bigger provided we do it at the right time,” she said.

To fight hunger and malnutrition, an expert panel of economists, including five Nobel Laureates, ranked vitamin A and zinc supplementation for children as the very best investment in development and placed micronutrient fortification highly.

Ms. Sisulu said researchers have “found that an annual investment of $60 million in vitamin A and zinc supplementation combined would yield benefits of more than $1 billion per year.”

Investing $1.2 billion a year in micronutrient programming over five years would “yield benefits of $15.3 billion, representing better health, fewer deaths and increased future earnings,” she added.

With its range of programmes and expertise, she said that WFP is well positioned to help deliver some of these benefits.

She highlighted the agency’s initiatives, including cash and voucher transfers; risk-reduction instruments; home-grown school feeding programmes; nutritious food products to more effectively prevent and treat different types of malnutrition among different populations; and the Purchase for Progress programme which aims at increasing the development impact of WFP’s $1.1 billion worth of food procurement.

The WFP official also underscored the success of Plumpy’Nut, a paste based on peanuts, oil, sugar, milk powder, vitamins and minerals, stressing that it has shown “remarkable results” for severe acute malnutrition among children.

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