World Food Day: Why are there still 400 million hungry children?

Published on 10 November 2006

Speaking to mark the occasion of World Food Day on 16 October, the Executive Director of WFP, James Morris, has appealed to the developed world to give a fairer chance to the world’s 400 million hungry children, many of whose lives are still blighted by malnutrition in the first few months after being born.

Speaking to mark the occasion of World Food Day on 16 October, the Executive Director of WFP, James Morris, has appealed to the developed world to give a fairer chance to the world’s 400 million hungry children, many of whose lives are still blighted by malnutrition in the first few months after being born.

 

One way to start would be to prevent hunger from cheating children of hope

WFP Executive Director, James Morris

The impact of hunger and malnutrition is often severe for children.

 

New research has shown yet again that the rapid development of the brain during the early months and years of life is crucial and influences learning, behaviour and health throughout the life cycle.

Hunger negatively affects the brain development of children, setting back their chances of success later on in life.

Devastating effect

“Given that 70 percent of brain development occurs in the first two years of our lives, malnutrition in early childhood can have a devastating effect,” Morris said.

“Even before they can walk and talk, these kids are already behind the curve,” he said.

Research in Chile has demonstrated that children who suffered from malnutrition before the age of two tend to have smaller and less developed brains than those who were well nourished and that correspondingly, their Intelligence Quotients (IQs) were also lower.

Stunted children

Other studies show that iron deficiency among children under two can be associated with poor performance once they reach school age.

Similarly, stunted children can lose years of education because they start school later than they should. By contrast, better nourished children perform significantly better at school.

“The conclusion we can draw from this is the importance of integrating food for education programmes – school feeding – with early child survival and development interventions to achieve the greatest nutritional impact on children,” Morris said.

Mother starting point

“And interventions against child hunger need to start even before the child is born – they need to start with the mother.”

Morris contrasted the educational opportunities and technology at hand in the developed world to help children achieve their potential with the extremely limited resources available to boost child development in the world’s poorest corners.

In countries such as Niger, Chad or Bangladesh, millions of children do not go to school at all, as the households they come from need every hand to make ends meet.

“There’s nothing wrong with wanting the best for your own children – it would be unnatural to wish otherwise,” Morris said.

Digital divide

“But next time you upgrade your child’s laptop or book those extra tuition sessions, spare a thought for the millions of children whose fingers will never touch a keyboard. They will be lucky if they even learn to read and write or do basic arithmetic.”

“We can make a difference. There is more than enough food in the world. For example in Italy, once the population's nutritional requirements are met, there would be sufficient food left over for all the under-nourished people in Ethiopia; in France the “extra” could feed the hungry of the Democratic Republic of Congo, while in the United States it could cover all the hungry in Africa,” Morris said.

“Official Development Assistance has been rising steadily for several years and now tops US$100 billion. We can afford to help, but we need to develop a food first policy – poverty cannot be eliminated until hunger and malnutrition are laid to rest. And one way to start would be to prevent hunger from cheating children of hope,” he said.