Sunday, June 26, 2011

Experts Address Nutrition, Hunger at Bread National Gathering 2011

If you weren't able to attend the National Gathering on June 11-14, you missed out on a great experience (view photos,  read very nice summary in Bread Blog).  There were  passionate preachers (Rev. Frank Thomas and Rev. Gabriel Salguero) and compelling speakers (NY Times food columnist Mark Bittman).  In addition to Mr. Bittman, a number of experts offered great perspectives on nutrition and hunger. Below are excerpts from four of these speakers.  (There were many more, but I found these four the most compelling). 

 Raj Shah
Photo: Rick Reinhard
If it weren't for Bread for the World, membership around this country, the fellowship of people coming together to highlight the opportunities and responsibilities we have as Americans to engage around the world and to serve around the world...and to protect those who are most vulnerable, we simply wouldn't be where we are today.

Your partnership, support and advocacy are genuinely more important today than they ever have been. In fact, USAID and our entire federal government have been seeking and putting in place a deeper, more operational, relationship with communities in faith around this country to support development, and health and education in some of the most vulnerable parts of the world.

In 2008 was the last time that the general public, our Congress, and our political leaders paid focused attention to world food prices and world food policies because we saw a price spike in that time that actually resulted in more than 100 million people moving back into a condition poverty and extreme hunger.

And that was shocking because for two or three or four decades we had seen a.consistent pathway downward in the amount of global suffering that is attributed to extreme poverty.  But for the first time in decades, we saw an abrupt trend in the other direction.  I think it caused us to ask ourselves three fundamental questions about who we are, what we stand for, and what we're committed to achieve around the world.
"In 2008...we saw a price spike in that time that actually resulted in more than 100 million people moving back into a condition poverty and extreme hunger.... Now, food and fuel prices are again high,  pushing an estimated 44 million people back into that condition of hunger and poverty."
We now now that more than 1 billion people will go to bed hungry every night.  We know that 3.5 million children this year will literally die because of malnutrition.  And we know that, just like in 2008, food and fuel prices and again high, again pushing an estimated 44 million people back into that condition of hunger and poverty.  
Raj Shah is administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development. Previously, he served as under secretary for research, education, and economics and as chief scientist at the U.S. Department of Agriculture, where he was responsible for a safe, sustainable, competitive U.S. food and fiber system. At USDA, he launched the National Institute of Food and Agriculture, a new scientific institute that elevated the status and and funding of agricultural research to be more in line with other major scientific groups.

David Nabarro
Photo: Jim Stipe
There are too many hungry people, and they are hungry for too much of the time, in our world.  Hunger is more than the unpleasant feeling that we get from time to time from a skipped meal or even that slightly virtuous feeling that we get when we fasted for a day or two.

Chronic hunger is a miserable, debilitating, humiliating and frustrrating sensation for all who experience it.  It weakens, dampens, and saddens the human spirit. Undernutrition in childhood is a problem that affects children for life.  It is imprinting on the body a disadvantage that is very, very hard to overcome.  And nearly 1 billion people, that's around one-sixth of the world's population, are hungry.
"One-third of humanity is affected by undernutrition and its causes.  This is an emergency. "
And all those people are at risk of undernutrition.  And that's a very big global problem.  But it gets bigger.  Because even more people, perhaps another 1 billion, are not actually hungry, but are affected by a shortage of micronutrients, the vitamins and minerals that are so important for good growth and development. If you add them together, 1 billion plus 1 billion, 2 billion, nearly one-third of the world's population, one-third of humanity is affected by undernutrition and its causes.  This is an emergency.  It's not just us who should be involved in it.  It should be engaging every world leader, every civil society group, everyone who is concerned about the future of our world.  And as you know, it's been neglected. 
David Nabarro was appointed the U.N. Secretary-General’s special representative for food security and nutrition in October 2009. He has worked in the office of the U.N. Secretary-General as senior U.N. system coordinator for avian and pandemic influenza since 2005 and, since January 2009, has coordinated the U.N. High Level Task Force on the Food Security Crisis.

Maria Otero
Photo: Jim Stipe
I have a long history with Bread for the World, and I remember very fondly those years when I worked on the board.  Today's event is extraordinary because of  the presence and the partnership of these two outstanding organizations, Bread and Concern Worldwide.  Their intentionality and their commitment to the hungry around the world has made a real and tangible difference, and that's important to remember as we take this on. The bounty of our planet affords enough food for every human being.  And yet, we know that this might be true in theory but has yet to be proven in practice.
"How do I know my business is doing well? If I can feed my family.  Then I know my business is doing well."  -Microbusiness owner in Honduras
Tonight, after a full day's work, millions will go to bed with empty stomachs.  And this year many millions of children will die from undernutrition. When I lived in Honduras, I saw this first hand   I saw it in the homes of the migrant workers that I visited in my capacity as director for Accion International in that country.   One time when trying to measure the impact of what the loans had meant to tiny little businesses, I interviewed one of those migrant entrepreneurs, a man.  He said to me: "How do I know my business is doing well? If I can feed my family.  Then I know my business is doing well.  If I can't buy food for my family, and they go to be hungry, that tells me that my business is down."
Maria Otero has served as Under Secretary of State for Democracy and Global Affairs since August 2009. She oversees and coordinates U.S. foreign relations on a variety of global issues, including democracy, human rights, and labor; environment, oceans, health and science; population, refugees, and migration; and monitoring and combating trafficking in persons

Anna Lartey
Photo: Jim Stipe
At the moment sub-Saharan Africa is facing a serious crisis of hunger, poverty, high maternal mortality and infant mortality.  Maternal mortality in sub-Saharan Africa is about one in 31; compared to the situation in other developing countries, one in 290, and in the industrialized world, one in 4,300.  In fact, having babies in sub-Saharan Africa is a very dangerous business. Infant mortality is high in Ghana, about 50 per 1,000 live births.  That is to say, five out of every 100 infants die before their first birthday. Malnutrition is an underlying cause.  Children lucky enough to escape death from malnutrition, have to live with the irreversible consequences into adulthood.   Over 90% of malnourished children are found in poor countries, and sub-Saharan has hosted quite a number of these countries.
"Ghana is on track to meeting Millennium Development Goal 1"
It is therefore, not surprising that sub-Saharan Africa is a region that lags behind the most in making progress in achieving the Millennium Development Goals.  At the same time, there is good news.  One country in Sub-Saharan Africa is on track to achieving an Millennium Development   Ghana is one of the few countries in sub-Saharan Africa that is on track to meeting MDG 1: halving  poverty and hunger.  Ghana's poverty rate was reduced to 51% in 1991 to about 28% in 2006, thus  "becoming the first country in sub-Saharan Africa to achieve this goal.

I want to talk briefly about some of the things we put in place to get here...We have direct nutrition interventions like promoting breastfeeding...We have a national food fortification program, where we fortify our food with some of the micronutrients that people need...We also have a school feeding program, which was started in 2005.  Today, the program feeds over 1 million children daily.  For most children, the food they get in school is likely to be the main meal they get for that day....We have also put in policies to improve our agriculture production,  and we have increased food production.  We currently have free maternal and health services during pregnancy...We also have national health insurance, so that everyone has some kind of access to health.

There is one thing we must mention.  Ghana would not have gotten this far without good governance and national political stability.  It's very crucial that good governance and political stability be in place to make these programs work.
Anna Lartey is an associate professor in the department of nutrition and food science at the University of Ghana.  Her research focuses on maternal/ child nutrition in sub-Saharan Africa, a subject on which she has published extensively. She won the University of Ghana’s “Best Researcher Award” in 2004. Lartey has served on several World Health Organization expert consultation task forces on child nutrition.

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