Political will a must to end child malnutrition

Posted on | oktober 28, 2011 | 1 Comment

The Horn of Africa is suffering from the worst drought in 60 years, forcing people to flee their homes in search of food and water.  Women and children are suffering the most due to malnutrition, especially in Somali, where the famine hit the hardest. Many mothers say they would rather die trying to reach a UN relief camp than stay where they are. So they walk through the desert, with their children strapped to their backs for days in the African heat without food or water.

While the issue of child malnutrition is mostly brought to the international spotlight via images of children in Africa, it is a global problem. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), malnutrition is the largest contributor to global child mortality. It is the cause of one-third of child deaths, which amounts to some 15 million children dying of hunger each year. According to UNICEF, 21,000 children die everyday. While it is rarely thought of as a Latin American problem, malnutrition is prominent in much of Central America, most notably El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and Nicaragua. There, chronic child malnutrition is as prevalent as it is in Africa or South Asia.

IRIN just published an article entitled, Political commitment “key to cutting malnutrition”, where they asked Andres Mejia Acosta of the Institute of Development Studies (IDS) in the UK whether he thought the leaders who had managed to push down malnutrition rates were in fact now reaping a political reward. Mejia Acosta said the answer was a mixed one,  “In Peru the regional presidents had perhaps drawn more political capital from it than mayors, and Garcia had not stood for re-election.” As a governor told me, “In the past politicians didn’t care about issues like nutrition, because children don’t vote, but now they have realized that their mothers do.’”  Mejia Acosta worked on what he calls “the Peruvian Surprise;” after 10 years of very little progress combating the issue, malnutrition rates plummeted post-2006 due to policy and political interventions.

Care and Action Against Hunger/Action Contre le Faim, together with researchers from the Oakland Institute in the US, the Institute of Development Studies (IDS) in the UK and Spain’s Tripode Proyectos recently published the report, Under Nutrition: What Works?: A review of policy and practice.  The report looked at countries who had significant success in decreasing malnutrition. They found that countries with a political will and leadership commitment in addition to citizens prepared to lobby  for the cause, that took a multi-sector approach, by “tackling poverty in a wider sense, not just malnutrition alone, and often using cash transfers and social protection programs to do it,” had the highest sustainable success. These countries also found success by increasing the communication 0f governmental departments and NGOs, encouraging them to work together and end program duplication, thereby increasing resources.

The report is part one of a multiphase study examining individual success stories combating malnutrition. The review argues that, by studying these successes, “we can aim to derive lessons and examples of good practice that can be implemented across other countries.”  It is fitting that the study is emerging when the focus is on the famine in the Horn of Africa, a disaster that has left many feeling helpless, as if action is too late or futile due to a lack of political will.

Nutrition experts say governments are not investing enough to prevent and treat malnutrition in women and children in poor countries.  “The amount donors have given to combating malnutrition is lamentable,” said Saul Morris, one of the authors of a series of reports on child survival published recently by The Lancet medical journal (IRIN). The Lancet reports highlight that one of the biggest failings is that “‘governments often treat malnutrition separately to reducing poverty, according to Morris, so that progress on malnutrition indicators are not used to measure poverty reduction.”

Recently, I published the piece Are Politics to Blame for the Deaths of 30,000 Children in Somalia?  The true cause of the famine is not just drought and poor harvest,  but the issue of lack of political will continues to be difficult to address.  While the international parties ignore or debate the key facts and realities, children continue to live in needless malnutrition. Nonetheless, despite reports that political will is the key strategy necessary to bring a sustainable end to child malnutrition, the solutions are not simple, especially in developing and conflict ridden countries such as Somalia.  In Somalia, many believe the famine is largely a political creation, due to factions that have actively prevented food and other aid from reaching drought victims. However, the political commitment to end the problem is difficult.  The current famine is centered in Southern Somalia, where a failing government sits idly by, while parts of the country are controlled by al-Shabaab, a terrorist group with ties to al-Qa‘ida. The problem has been compounded as Kenya has been refusing to let people cross into northern Kenya to seek safety and aid.

The issues leading to child malnutrition are often created by a lack of political will, and yet political will is required to end this problem. Pressure for change must come not only from within countries suffering, but also from the international community. We should continue to evaluate cases of success to aid current, new, and emerging leaders if we are to see the end of child malnutrition in our lifetime.

AUTHOR: Cassandra Clifford
URL: www.bridgetofreedomfoundation.org and http://children.foreignpolicyblogs.com
E-MAIL: Cassandra [at] btff.org


One Response to “Political will a must to end child malnutrition”

  1. The links are so helpfull
    oktober 28th, 2011 @ 19:26

    Some info and video’s added more weapons to my fight against malnutrition..

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