International: Children’s nutrition highlighted at U.N. General Assembly

As leaders of 193 countries gear up for the second week of the United Nations General Assembly in New York, humanitarian groups are calling for urgent action to improve nutrition for the world’s most undernourished children.

Approximately 2.3 million children died in 2011 from nutrition-related causes. Millions are at risk if leaders fail to turn policy and financial commitment into action.

High-level talks on the Scaling Up Nutrition movement are scheduled for Sept. 27 to provide momentum for key initiatives — put in place since 2010 — that could improve nutrition for more than 60 million children.

“Never before have so many leaders, from so many countries and fields, agreed to work together to improve nutrition,” says UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon.

However, increased efforts by the world’s poorest countries and support from developed nations have not necessarily translated into tangible progress.

In an effort to hold countries and donors accountable, World Vision and Save the Children have launched a Nutrition Barometer.

The report assesses governments’ political, legal, and financial commitments to tackling malnutrition in the 36 countries where 90 per cent of the world’s undernourished children live.

Almost one-quarter of these countries have shown little progress in improving children’s nutrition.

“It’s proven that good governance is crucial to address child malnutrition,” says World Vision chief executive officer Kevin Jenkins.

“This demands not just political promises, but also strong nutrition strategies backed by sustained, long-term investments, in order for every child to have the best start to life.”

According to the Nutrition Barometer, India, Yemen, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo show the weakest performance.

Despite experiencing strong economic growth in the past few years, the Indian government continues to invest little in health and nutrition initiatives; 42 per cent of Indian children are underweight. 

That’s almost double the rate in Sub-Saharan Africa. 

In contrast, government leaders in Peru have demonstrated their political will to create policy and invest significant resources to reducing child undernourishment, according to the report.

The proportion of children suffering from chronic undernutrition in 2011 fell to less than 20 per cent from nearly 24 per cent two years earlier, even though in some regions more than half of children still suffer poor nutrition.

Malawi and Guatemala are also among the top three performers on the barometer.