By Valentina Gasbarri :: Despite significant progress made over the previous decades, persistent and unacceptable levels of malnutrition pose a formidable global challenge.
According to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the prevalence of hunger has declined since 1990. But some 805 million (1 out of 9 persons) remain chronically hungry, FAO data for 2012-2014 shows.
The prevalence of stunting in children has also decreased from 40 to 25 percent, but 161 million children are still affected. At the same time, more than 2 billion people are deficient in micronutrients like Vitamin A, iodine, iron and zinc.
Most of the world’s undernourished people are found in Southern Asia, followed by sub-Saharan Africa, Eastern Asia and Latin America and the Caribbean.
At the same time, the other face of hunger is represented by the massive increase in the rates of obesity, both in children and adults. An estimated 42 million children under the age of five were overweight in 2013. More than 500 million adults are obese.
The World Health Organization (WHO) Director-General Dr Margaret Chan explained this paradoxical situation at an international conference in November in Rome: “The world’s food system with its reliance on industrialised production and globalised markets, produces ample supplies, but creates some problems for public health.”
She added: “Part of the world has too little to eat, leaving millions of vulnerable to death or disease caused by nutrient deficiencies. Another part overeats, with widespread obesity pushing life-expectancy figures backwards and pushing the costs of health care to astronomical heights.”
This puzzling situation drew the focus of ministers of agriculture, health and other relevant ministries and agencies, representatives of United Nations agencies and other intergovernmental organizations as well as the civil society, including NGOs, academics and the private sector, from over 170 countries, gathered at the Second International Conference on Nutrition (ICN2) November 19 to 21 in Rome. ICN2 was organised jointly by FAO and WHO at the FAO Headquarters.
Pope Francis, Queen Letizia of Spain, Nadine Heredia, First Lady of Peru, King Letsie III of Lesotho and Princess Haya Bint Al Hussein of the United Arab Emirates addressed the conference as special guests.
Pope Francis said, the fight against hunger and under-nutrition was being handicapped by “the priority of the market and the pre-eminence of profit, which have reduced food to a thing to be bought and sold, and subject to speculation”. He highlighted the need to care for the environment and protect the planet. “Humans may forgive but nature does not,” he said, adding: “We must care for Mother Nature, so that she does not respond with destruction.”
22 years after the First International Conference on Nutrition (ICN1), held also in Rome in 1992, ICN2 provided an occasion to review the progress made, focusing specifically on country-level achievements in scaling up nutrition. Indeed, in order to properly address the problem of malnutrition, interventions are needed throughout the entire food system, from production to processing, transport, consumption and waste management as FAO Director-General José Graziano da Silva said. “Government must lead the way,” he added. “But the push to improve global nutrition must be a joint effort, involving civil society organisations and the private sector.”
The Rome Declaration
The immediate challenge at ICN2 was to reach a consensus on ways to ensure a high degree of policy coherence between food supply and public health to guarantee food and nutrition security for all. Endorsing the ‘Rome Declaration on Nutrition’ and an accompanying technical Framework of Action to guide its implementation was yet another challenge. And all this with a view to setting out a number of concrete commitments and recommendations for policies and programmes to address nutrition across multiple sectors.
The Rome Declaration on Nutrition is a political document, which reaffirms the commitments made at ICN1 in 1992, pledges countries to eradicate hunger and prevent all forms of malnutrition worldwide, particularly under-nutrition in children, anaemia in women and children among other micronutrient deficiencies, as well as to reverse the trend in obesity. It obliges countries to take 10 fundamental steps to translate their commitments for nutrition into action.
“Our responsibility is to transform the commitment into concrete results”, Graziano da Silva said.
“We must redouble our efforts,” United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said in a video message addressed to ICN2 participants, “looking forward to learning of the national commitment that each of you will make. In turn, the UN system pledges to do all that it can to provide effective support,” he added.
The Framework for Action
The Framework for Action, on the other hand, provides a set of voluntary policy options and strategies for use by governments in cooperation with other stakeholders for the implementation of commitments of the Rome Declaration on Nutrition, The Framework provides a list of 60 policy and strategy recommendations, which may be incorporated into national nutrition, health, agriculture, development and investment plans to achieve better nutrition for all. It advocates the creation of an enabling environment for effective action and strengthening sustainable food systems.
By endorsing these documents, countries are committed to implementing the Declaration through the Framework for Action, as well as ensuring accountability and monitoring progress in the existing global nutrition targets to be met by 2025. Moreover, the commitment includes possibly introducing a related global goal into the post-2015 development agenda.
“We have before us a decade of nutrition,” Graziano da Silva added, referring to the upcoming Expo Milan 2015 with its theme “Feeding the planet, energy for life.”
Expo Milan 2015 falls in a crucial year for the United Nations: it will on the one hand review overall progress in meeting the Millennium Development Goals (the first of which is to eliminate extreme poverty and hunger), and on the other adopt the new Post-2015 Development Agenda.
There was agreement at ICN2 that Expo Milan’s theme “Feeding the planet, energy for life” will provide an ideal opportunity to foster dialogue and raise public awareness about food security and nutrition, rural development and the sustainable management of natural resources.
In order to maximize this impact, the UN has chosen the theme “The Zero Hunger Challenge ∙ United for a sustainable world”, to make visitors understand that together we can build a world where everyone has access to safe, sufficient, and nutritious food, and can lead a healthy and productive life without compromising the needs of future generations.
When talking about hunger, the only acceptable number according to the UN is zero. In order to achieve this goal, the Zero Hunger Challenge has proposed five objectives or pillars: Zero stunted children under 2 years of age; 100 percent access to adequate food all year round; All food systems are sustainable; 100 percent increase in smallholder productivity and income; Zero loss or waste of food.
An integral part of all five pillars is that these highlight the issue of women’s empowerment considering the fundamental role that they play in the fight against hunger and malnutrition. In many countries, women represent [Valentina Gasbarri] the backbone of the agricultural sector and food systems and make up the bulk of the work force in the primary sector. Women also play a key role in guaranteeing food security for the whole family: when women suffer from hunger and malnutrition, so do their children.
*Valentina Gasbarri is a Junior Expert of the European Instrument for Democracy and Human Rights (EIDHR). She has a strong background in East-Asia geo-strategic relations, development issues and global security studies.
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