Reducing child deaths from starvation can only be done through a combination of government policy and development work, a seminar on food security in Dublin heard Tuesday.
Chief executive of Concern, Tom Arnold said policy changes in developing countries as well as at EU and G8 level have opened the way for more focus on prevention rather than treatment of malnutrition.
“Prevention has to be the key focus, there has to be more emphasis on food security. Malnutrition is an underlying cause for one third of child deaths annually,” he said at the ‘Feeding the World in 2050’ seminar in University College Dublin.
He said much progress has been made, citing a reduction from 20 million children dying in 1980 as a result of lack of food to seven million last year. However, this progress is now under threat because of rising food prices caused by the global recession.
Paradoxically, he said the recession is also focusing policy on nutrition as numerous food riots since 2008 have awakened politicians to the economic problems caused by food insecurity.
The EU will issues a communication on nutrition later this year for the first time, and the G8 Alliance for Food Security focuses on agriculture, also a first for that group of nations.
Stunted growth among children is also a rising concern for governments, he said.
‘The long-term effects of stunting are these issues – an increased risk of dying, lower brain development, lower work capacity and they are largely irreversible.
“When you think there are many African countries who have levels of stunting among their child population of between 30 and 50 per cent you begin to appreciate the scale of the problem,” he said.
Concern has developed an innovative approach to preventing malnutrition which has been endorsed by 50 countries over the last decade. Known as the ‘community management of acute malnutrition’ or CMAM the programme is a shift away from the large feeding centres of the 1990s.
Chairing the afternoon session, former President Mary Robinson reminded the audience food security is not just an issue for the future.
“In Malawi today, there are people who are very food insecure. We really have to urgently get real about the fact that as human beings on this world we should have it as a human right no family goes without adequate food or nutrition.
“That should be a basic tenant,’ she said. Mrs Robinson is president of the Mary Robinson Foundation for Climate Justice.
Earlier President Michael D Higgins addressed the seminar, focusing on the importance of gender issues in combating malnutrition.