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July 4th a chance to mark US-Irish co-operation on tackling child hunger

Hilary Clinton and Tom Arnold, CEO, Concern at the launch of the ‘1000 days’ partnership between the US and Ireland in New York. Photo: Concern.A joint US-Irish partnership is mobilising governments in order to put hunger at the forefront of international development policies, writes Paul O’Brien, Overseas Director, Concern Worldwide.

As the United States celebrates its independence day, it offers us here in Ireland an opportunity to reflect on the relationship between our two countries.

President Barack Obama’s recent visit to Ireland highlighted once again the strong bonds that exist. Nowhere is this more evident right now than in the global fight against hunger. As President Obama noted in his speech on College Green “Ireland is working hand in hand with the United States to make sure that hungry mouths are fed around the world - because we remember those times. We know what crippling poverty can be like, and we want to make sure we’re helping others”.

This is an immensely important partnership between the US and Ireland. Chronic hunger, or undernutrition, contributes to the deaths of three million children under five each year.

Hunger is inextricably linked with poverty, of which it is both a symptom and a cause: over 90 percent of the world’s undernourished children live in just 36 countries. In these countries, hunger undermines social and economic development, and impedes basic human development. Evidence shows that undernutrition during the 1,000 days, from pregnancy to age two, causes irreversible physical and mental stunting in one of three children worldwide.

The number of people suffering from hunger in the world is growing, and is expected to top one billion this year. As the threat of hunger continues to rise, the international community must face the reality that it has a responsibility to act.

Fighting hunger has become engrained in the Irish psyche. The Great Famine permeates our consciousness and gives us an affinity with nearly one billion people who currently go to bed hungry each night. Stories from missionaries and aid workers have influenced and inspired generations of Irish people. Our aid agencies and our government’s aid programme are rated amongst the best in the world.

Ireland is committed to fighting hunger because it is right, because it is something that we believe is unacceptable in our time. Yet we should not ignore, nor underestimate, the positive effect this has on our own country, our relationship with the United States and our global reputation.

A few weeks ago, Eamon Gilmore, our Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, was in Tanzania with US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. On the same day, halfway around the world in Washington, D.C., Concern Worldwide was co-hosting an event which featured 350 high-level government officials, leaders of civil society organisations, and activists from around the world and keynote addresses from Robert Zoellick, Head of the World Bank, Maria Otero, the US Undersecretary of State, and Kevin Farrell, Ireland’s Hunger Envoy. These events are part of a joint US-Irish partnership to mobilise governments in order to put hunger at the forefront of international development policies.

Ayinkamiye Julienne at Gisagara Health Centre Rwanda. Her new child, Akimana Tabita, is being treated for pneumonia. Nutrition information is also shared with mothers at the centre. Photo: Concern.The ‘1000 days’ partnership between the US and Ireland was launched in New York last September by then Minister for Foreign Affairs Micheál Martin and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. It is part of a wider initiative to “Scale up Nutrition”, an unprecedented global consensus about what is needed to tackle hunger, including direct action in health and nutrition, as well as integrating nutrition into broader efforts in health, agriculture and development.

To achieve this, political commitment is vital. Never before have we had as much knowledge and evidence to tackle the problem of hunger.  We know that cost-effective and high-impact interventions exist. We have evidence that specific nutrition interventions can save lives on a large scale.  We also know that it is vital to integrate nutrition into agriculture and education initiatives. These initiatives could save the lives of one million children every year, and improve the health of countless mothers and children.

Together, the United States and Ireland have an important role to play as global leaders in the fight against hunger, to build this global political commitment and push this initiative forward. Again in College Green, President Obama spoke passionately about the importance of taking responsibility and acting on it, calling Ireland a country that “met its responsibilities by choosing to apply the lessons of your own past to assume a heavier burden of responsibility on the world stage.”

And it is because we take this responsibility seriously that a small country like ours, which is going through some difficult times, can stand alongside the United States, be it in New York or Dublin, Washington or Dar Es Salaam as equal partners in the fight against hunger, one of the most critically important issues of our time.

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