ISTANBUL – As rising prices cast millions of families overnight into the ranks of the hungry, the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) today called for global leadership to invest in nutrition.
“For families who spend 80 percent of their income on food, all it takes is one price shock to cast them overnight into the ranks of the hungry,” said WFP’s Deputy Executive Director and Chief Operating Officer Amir Abdulla. “These people are often faced with desperate choices—to feed one person or the other, to forego needed health care, to take girls out of school.”
Abdulla told a special session of the UN Conference on the Least Developed Countries that malnutrition was an economic issue that affected the overall potential of nations. This year, food prices, weather emergencies and political instability were intersecting in a perfect storm hitting the world’s most vulnerable people.
He said WFP was seeing a changing face of hunger and malnutrition, with more hungry and poor in urban areas – even in middle-income countries.
In 2010, WFP reached more than 100 million people in more than 70 countries, including 38 of the Least Developed Countries or LDCs. Practically every second child under the age of five (43 percent) in these, poorest, countries, was stunted or small for their age.
But advances have been made in fighting child malnutrition in countries such as Nepal, Ethiopia, Mali and Mauritania. Brazil has set an example with its innovative Zero Hunger policy, slashing rates for undernutrition from 37 percent in 1974 to 7 percent in 2007.
Greater understanding of the importance of good nutrition for physical and mental development has led to an increased focus on the first 1,000 days, from pregnancy to two years of age.
WFP has increased the use of innovative, fortified products such as “Wawa Mum,” a ready-to-use chickpea paste made in Pakistan. In the last two years, WFP increased the number of children under two it reached with specialised nutritious food by nearly 50-fold.