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Child-hunger initiative not enough, say relief agencies

17 August 2012


Pushed to the limit: 15 people share this small room in Konna, Mali, having fled from the north. One is Aboubacrin Sada, a Qur'anic teacher, who is sheltering with his family. See report, below

Pushed to the limit: 15 people share this small room in Konna, Mali, having fled from the north. One is Aboubacrin Sada, a Qur'anic teacher, who is ...

THE Prime Minister's commitments to tackling global hunger, made at a Downing Street summit convened on the closing day of the Olympic Games, risk "entrenching the root causes of hunger", campaigners have warned.

At the summit last weekend, attended by athletes such as the Somali-born gold medallist Mo Farah, Mr Cameron and the Vice-President of Brazil, Michel Temer, announced three new initiatives as part of the Games' "lasting legacy".

The British Government will back the creation of drought-resistant and vitamin-enriched crops, and invest in HarvestPlus, a biofortification venture.

Mr Cameron also said that UK companies, such as Unilever, would "work to find ways to make nutritious food available to poor families at prices they can afford"; and the Government would "support new schemes to improve government accountability across developing countries".

The chief executive of Save the Children, Justin Forsyth, welcomed these "important commitments", but urged the Government to push for commitments from countries with the highest levels of malnutrition, such as India, Pakistan, and Nigeria. Mr Cameron will assume presidency of the G8 next year.

Save the Children's 2012 report on global child-development said that undernutrition was holding back progress on child well-being, mainly in sub-Saharan Africa and south Asia. The charity called on the international community to "tackle the global drivers of undernutrition - such as high food prices and inequality", and to invest in the development of smallholdings, priorit-ising women farmers, and sustainable farming methods.

A global target to reduce stunted growth in children - said to cause one third of child deaths - by 40 per cent by 2025 has been agreed by the World Health Assembly.

A statement by Oxfam and nine other charities urged him to go further. The head of policy at Oxfam, Max Lawson, said that his commitment "must be a first step towards real reforms".

But Amy Horton of the World Development Movement warned that the Government's approach "risks further entrenching the root causes of hunger: it focused on encouraging big business to market its products to the 'bottom billion' of poor consumers, alongside technical fixes such as fortifying food with vitamins."

War on Want blamed record global hunger on "a food system hijacked by agribusiness corporations". Its report Food Sovereignty argues for "food sovereignty": "the right of peoples to healthy and culturally appropriate food produced through ecologically sound and sustainable methods, and their right to define their own food and agriculture systems".

"David Cameron's suggestion that the problem can be solved through handing out high-energy biscuits to children is a distraction from the seriousness of the issue," the charity's executive director, John Hilary, said.

The UN's Food and Agriculture Organization's food price index was up in July by six per cent on June, after three months of decline. The cereal price index rose by 17 per cent. Amid the worst drought in the United States for 50 years, corn prices rose by almost 23 per cent.

The German Commerzbank has removed agricultural products from a commodity index after speculation was blamed for rising food prices.

Oxfam warned last Friday that a rise in food prices would "force millions more people to go hungry". It would be felt most in countries, such as Yemen, that rely heavily on food imports. Progressio has reported that almost half Yemenis lack enough food and water.

Mr Cameron defended the spending of 0.7 per cent of the Budget on international development after a cancer patient speaking on LBC radio challenged him about lack of funding for medication in the UK.

THE "desperate" situation in the Sahel, where more than 19 million people are facing food shortages, is deteriorating, Christian Aid reports.

Andrew Hogg, head of media, has recently returned from Mali, one of the worst-affected countries, where an estimated 4.6 million people are in need. Cereal shortages have been compounded by conflict in the north. As a result, there are more than 174,000 internally displaced people and more than 200,000 refugees in neighbouring countries, most in areas where food and pasture were already in short supply.

Mr Hogg heard about sexual abuse, disappearances, the seizure of property, and the imposition of sharia law in towns in the north, much of which has been seized by rebels. Christian Aid's Sahel appeal is halfway to its target of £975,000.

Even in a non-crisis year in the Sahel region, 645,000 children will die of largely preventable causes, a third of them due to malnutrition, says a report by World Vision and Save the Children: End the Everyday Emergency. It calls on governments, NGOs, the UN, and others to work together to break the hunger cycle.

The chief executive of Save the Children, Justin Forsyth, said: "We will continue to lurch from crisis to crisis unless we address the underlying drivers of hunger that children in the Sahel face every single year." 


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