World Food Day celebrates #Foodheroes, like Aylin Yildiz and Ritah Alfred, who work to nourish vulnerable groups in the wake of civil wars, global pandemics, and everyday life. Nutrition is not only about getting food—it is about access to the right nutrients. In 2018, 9.2 percent of the world’s population was food insecure, a statistic that only takes ‘getting food’ into consideration and did not account for the even higher percentage of the world’s population that could not obtain nutritious food.
Today, millions of people globally are surviving mostly on empty calories—plate after plate of rice, cassava, or maize—with very little protein or other nutrients that bodies and brains need for development and performance. Nutritious food is often just too expensive for families to buy or too inaccessible for vulnerable communities to obtain. Around the world, ensuring families have access to safe, nutritious, accessible, and affordable food can be a challenge, and must be a priority.
Unfortunately, today, malnutrition is a child’s worst enemy, responsible for nearly half of all deaths of children under the age of five, claiming almost 3 million lives a year. The deadliest form of malnutrition, known as wasting, impacts nearly 50 million children worldwide. Malnutrition not only affects physiologic health outcomes but also leads to stunted brain development therefore impacting educational opportunities and potential for growth in entire societies.
Although the percentage of the world suffering from malnutrition has halved over the past three decades, continued progress is not guaranteed, and the crisis is far from over. As the COVID-19 pandemic strains global economies, the struggle to obtain nutrient-dense foods and the appropriate health care is exacerbated in low-income and at-risk communities. According to the Global Nutrition Report, in 2017 the United States disbursed US$3.3 billion for global nutrition-related intervention programs through the US Agency for International Development (USAID). That same year, Americans cumulatively were estimated to have spent US$9.1 billion—three times the amount allocated to combating global malnutrition—towards Halloween celebrations. Malnutrition is a global crisis that requires urgent attention and action from foreign assistance donors like the United States.
As a global community, we have the power to forge a new path and alleviate this suffering. Though ready-to-scale, life-saving nutrition interventions — such as the Power 4 — have existed for years, they are still not widely implemented. The Power 4 interventions offer a focused set of priority nutrition interventions that support good nutrition in the critical 1,000 days between a mother’s pregnancy and her child’s second birthday as well as early childhood, saving lives and setting a positive trajectory for that child’s growth and development.
Solving malnutrition and ending global hunger may seem like a colossal task, but as a global community, we’ve achieved far greater feats. Smart investments in nutrition support or food fortification programs can ensure children are getting sufficient nourishment for stronger health outcomes. Observances like World Food Day are crucial to raising awareness for a preventable tragedy that could save millions of lives annually. Despite the increase in funding allocations year over year, the scale and severity of need to fully fund global nutrition efforts remains unmet.
This World Food Day, we are calling attention to the need to elevate nutrition as a global policy and funding priority. Before the COVID-19 pandemic, malnutrition was already a global emergency, threatening the lives and development of millions of children around the world. The pandemic has taken this global crisis to unfathomable levels. And while the economic effects of COVID-19 will be temporary for many, for children who experience malnutrition during the critical 1,000 day window will endure the effects of this pandemic for a lifetime. This unprecedented moment requires unprecedented response, from all actors. Heightened leadership from foreign assistance donors, like the United States and the United Kingdom, is especially critical.
The global COVID-19 pandemic has set progress in the fight against global malnutrition back by many years. This World Food Day, we celebrate the possibility that we can still end the crisis of global malnutrition in our lifetimes, recognizing that doing so will require bold action that must start now.
Together with the International Rescue Committee, CARE, 1,000 Days, HarvestPlus, Bread for the World, RESULTS Canada, KANCO, Concern Worldwide, Save the Children, World Vision, Action Against Hunger, we call attention to the deep, and increasing, need for nutrition funding:
“Funding commitments to nutrition should be increased immediately through fulfillment of the UN’s Global Humanitarian Response Plan. And over the long-term, donors need to significantly increase long term funding commitments to nutrition: global donors should make strong commitments to address nutrition needs at next year’s Nutrition for Growth summit, including a doubling for nutrition-specific interventions like acute malnutrition treatment.”