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O'brien stephen Stephen O’Brien is the Member of Parliament for Eddisbury, the Prime Minister’s Envoy and UK Special Representative for the Sahel, a former DFID Minister and Co-Chair of the Conservative Friends of International Development.

I strongly welcome the launch, this week, of UNICEF’s
significant and hard-hitting report on child nutrition. The report identifies both
the key statistics and evidence from across the world about child nutrition
rates, with particular regard to pre-natal care, breastfeeding, and various
vitamin and mineral consumptions; and also outlines how, as a global community,
we can tackle the pressing issues of child malnutrition and stunting. These are
vital concerns which I have seen on my countless visits over the last 35 years
to some of the most challenged and vulnerable parts of the world, especially in
Africa, but also in Central and South America, in the Middle and Far East, and
in the Indian sub-continent. The prominence of child (mal)nutrition has emerged
strongly in the last few years amongst development partners, international
organisations and NGOs. It was a key part of my focus during my time as an International
Development Minister and, in my current role as the Prime Minister’s Envoy and
UK Special representative to the Sahel in North and West Africa, it remains so
now.

Stunting is the irreversible impact of not
receiving enough nutritious food within the first 1000 days of life, from
pregnancy to a child’s second birthday. Staggeringly, there are today around
165 million stunted children around the world – more than one quarter of the
world’s children under age five are unable to develop physically or mentally as
they should. Whilst the vast majority of children in the UK are well fed and
nourished, the situation in many developing countries is in stark contrast, as
90% of children affected by malnutrition and stunting live in Africa and Asia. The
link to extreme poverty is incontrovertible – as children in the poorest
communities are more than twice as likely to be stunted, particularly in rural
areas where as many as one third of children are affected. In addition to this,
every year 2.3 million children die of malnutrition.


As the report notes, it is imperative to focus on
the first 1000 days of a child’s life as the crucial window of opportunity for
change – it is during this time that proper nutrition has the greatest impact
on a child’s health and potential future wellbeing and opportunities. There are
proven low cost solutions for reducing stunting – indeed, the report outlines a
set of 13 direct interventions which target pregnant women, breastfeeding, and
complimentary feeding. Given this cogent evidence, I urge the prioritisation
and allocation from the UK’s committed development resources for an extra boost
to combat malnutrition. This is vital, recognised by all who study the evidence
and who, across the political spectrum, are concerned about the avoidable
ravages of global poverty. UNICEF’s report and its recommendations can be
unequivocally supported because they point the way to what is do-able, let
alone desirable. Tackling malnutrition is inextricably linked to the wider
development goals we are pursuing as a nation through the admirable
humanitarian and development commitments the Coalition Government has made and
is rightly sticking to. This is the more crucial in light of the potential
impact of climate change (whatever one’s view of its cause) whose demonstrable
effects are the more immediate and devastating on the poorest people in the
least developed nations on the planet.

The International Food Policy
Research Institute (IFPRI) have estimated that there will be an extra 25
million more malnourished children by 2050
as a result of the drastic volatility
in food prices, agricultural yields and adverse weather. Tackling malnutrition is an economic investment – addressing stunting can break
the cycle of poverty and boost the economic development of a nation. Leading
economists have estimated that every $1 spent to reduce chronic malnutrition
can have a $30 payoff. The World Bank has estimated that the funding shortage to address child
malnutrition is $10.3 billion a year – of which the UK share would be $232 million. With developing countries
contributing half of the budget, there is potential to save the lives of 2
million children around the world. As stunting negatively affects the school
attendance and performance of these children, tackling malnutrition must also
be seen as a long term social investment. This funding would help ensure that children
are properly nourished and is, therefore, essential in protecting children from
illnesses, allowing them to develop physically and mentally, helping them to
learn and concentrate in school – thereby raising IQ – and it is estimated, in
time, to increase their earning potential. Tackling malnutrition is a vital
investment in the health of a nation. Consider that undernourished mothers have
a much greater chance of giving birth to low birth weight babies and that an
estimated 60-80% of neonatal deaths occur among low birth weight babies – we
need to work together as the generation with the power to bear down on and eliminate
these problems which, with political will, are totally tractable. This is absolutely
key to the ‘golden thread’ of development espoused and promoted by the Prime
Minister, David Cameron – ensuring that we tackle all the causes of extreme poverty
as well as the symptoms of it.

It is clear that this year is a golden opportunity
for the UK Government to shape the international agenda. In November 2012, the
Prime Minister pledged to ‘lead the way in the battle against hunger’ and, with The Hunger Summit and the G8 approaching, I believe there is no
better time than this to call for the allocation from our budgets of
prioritised boosted resources for nutrition and to work together to tackle both
the causes and symptoms of child malnutrition and stunting – one of the surest
ways to secure sustainable, demonstrable results and improved lives and hope.

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