UN Madrid Food Summit Could Miss Critical Target

55 million young children at risk

Madrid, January 23, 2009–If next week’s Madrid Food Summit does not come up with a concrete implementation and funding plan focused on malnutrition, 55 million children under five will continue to face potential life-threatening malnutrition according to ACF International and Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF).

While global prices for basic food commodities have fallen back to 2006 levels, childhood malnutrition – caused by the lack of foods rich in nutrients, vitamins, and minerals – continues to claim the lives of almost 10.000 children every day.

Today, the most deadly form of severe acute malnutrition can be effectively treated, but only one out of ten affected children gets the UN-recommended treatment with ready-to-use therapeutic food. As a first step, the two NGOs urge the summit to ensure that all severely malnourished children are treated by 2012.

“If Ban Ki-moon and José Luis Zapatero want this summit to rise above empty promises, they must insist that food aid changes and that a new mechanism is created to support the 50 most affected countries to address childhood malnutrition,” said Stéphane Doyon, MSF Nutrition Team Leader.

Despite advances in nutritional science, international and national food aid still mostly consists of little more than cereal porridges of maize or rice, amounting to the equivalent of bread and water. These do not meet the minimum nutritional needs of vulnerable children between six months and three years of age who are at a critical stage of growth development.

“National governments, donors and the World Health Organisation need to urgently put new policies and funding in place to implement new food aid standards,” said Olivier Longué, Executive Director from ACF Spain. “We cannot continue to provide food aid that we would not give to our own children.”

Appropriate nutrient-rich food for small children will make nutrition programs more expensive. MSF and ACF estimate that 3 billion Euros are needed immediately to adequately address acute childhood malnutrition worldwide.

“This money will be well spent. If we provide young children with appropriate food we can prevent millions of kids from deteriorating to the point of severe, life-threatening malnutrition,” said Longué. “Without a concrete commitment to tackling malnutrition, Millennium Development Goals (MDG) 1 and 4, aimed at reducing the number of people affected by hunger and child mortality, will never be achieved. Addressing hunger and malnutrition are the indisputable priorities for mankind, proper nutrition is a basic right for human dignity.”

Although the UN came up with a Global Action Plan last July, there is still no mechanism to support countries in setting up effective nutrition programs.

“If a developing country wants to address HIV/AIDS or malaria, it knows where to go to for technical and financial support”, said Stéphane Doyon. “To combat child malnutrition, no such international support exists today.”

During 2006 and 2007 MSF and ACF treated more than 380,000 malnourished children.