Martin Horwood MP writes… 1000 days of hunger

The first thousand days of a child’s life – from conception through to their second birthday – are full of moments to cherish. First birthdays, first steps, first words. Whether these events are captured on film, or retold to maximum embarrassment in later years, they are treasured milestones in a child’s life.

A report published yesterday by UNICEF reminds us that those first thousand days aren’t only precious, they are the most critical in shaping a child’s future. Their health, their growth, their ability to learn and even their potential to earn are shaped during this period by one crucial factor – nutrition. Many of us are able to take for granted the ability we have to source the right things for our families, at the right stages in their lives. Getting the right nutrition safeguards children’s health and development, which in turn allows them to more successfully participate in their studies, their own interests, and eventually their working lives.

For less fortunate children, the consequences can be severe. Worldwide, there are over 165 million children whose development has been stunted – children whose physical or mental development has been hindered due to a lack of these necessary nutrients in early life. These children may struggle to complete education or find work, and many will not live to adulthood. Every year, 2.3 million children die because they are malnourished.

Poverty gaps play an important role – over 90% of the world’s children with stunted development live in Africa and Asia, with those in the poorest communities more than two times as likely to be stunted. Our responsibility to help the world’s poorest people – exemplified in the Government’s commitment to spending 0.7% of GDP on development aid overseas – must respond to these terrible consequences, which fall hardest on those who can least afford them.

And there are growing threats that could make the picture worse. An estimate from the International Food Policy Research Institute states that climate change could cause 25 million more children to be malnourished by 2050. As crop yields suffer, and food prices inflate in years to come, we will be faced not only with the problem of how to feed the underfed, but how to grow enough food in the face of changing weather and climates. Our continued investment in tackling climate change is a crucial element of the fight against malnutrition.

There is no excuse for sitting on the sidelines, in a year when the UK Government is hosting the G8 and has so much potential to influence the development agenda. UNICEF’s report sets out a number of proven, low-cost solutions to reduce stunting, including 13 direct interventions which target pregnant women, breastfeeding, and complimentary feeding. The 2013 Nutrition and Growth event, immediately before the G8, offers the UK Government an opportunity to commit to providing solutions. The World Bank’s estimate put the funding shortage to address child malnutrition at $10.3 billion per year. The UK share of this would be £232 million, and could help to save the lives of two million children every year.

The average adult in the UK will live for approximately 29,300 days. Let’s pledge to make that the aim for children around the world, by supporting their first thousand.

Read the full report: Improving Child Nutrition: The achievable imperative for global progress.

* Martin Horwood is Liberal Democrat Member of the European Parliament for the South West of England & Gibraltar. He is a member of the European Parliament’s Iran delegation. He is Borough & parish councillor for Leckhampton, Gloucestershire.

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2 Comments

  • Peter Hayes 16th Apr '13 - 6:40pm

    So did you vote against the benefit caps or support a local food bank?

  • I really hope we don’t see these sort of problems emerging here in the UK. But hope is not good enough – how do we ensure this will not happen? How do we ensure people have access to proper nutrition?

    (Cannot believe I am even saying this in the UK, in the year 2013!)

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