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Brussels: Food for Thought

In the countdown to the Nutrition for Growth summit in London on 8 June, ground-breaking research published today by Save the Children highlights the terrible effects of malnutrition on millions of young children and the opportunity next week’s summit offers the EU to fulfil its promises to fund the fight against this scourge.

As EU Development Ministers meet to agree a new policy on food and nutrition security, Food for Thought provides evidence that the EU needs to make concrete commitments to help end malnutrition.

EU Policy
The European Commission published its Communication, which forms the basis of this new EU policy, in March. (I I blogged on it here.) The Communication outlines three strategic priorities:

• Enhanced mobilisation and political commitment for nutrition.
• Scale up actions needed at the country level.
• Knowledge and expertise needed for nutrition

EU Target:
A concrete commitment is to reduce the number of children suffering from stunting by 7 million. Stunting is a direct result of poor nutrition, and is most acute and irreversible if the child is malnourished in the first 1,000 days, from conception to its second birthday.

The Food for Thought report highlights how young children’s neurological development can be permanently damaged by malnutrition, and the terrible and permanent impact this then has on their potential – both physical and mental – as well as on their confidence.

The report also  looks at the broader economic consequences. Many countries with high levels of malnutrition are experiencing something of a demographic shift, with child mortality declining, and these increasing numbers of young people offer potential for economic growth. But if workers are too unhealthy and poorly educated (malnourished children are on average nearly 20% less literate than their well-nourished peers), this demographic dividend will not pay off.

Action is needed now:
Despite many international promises to reduce stunting, there has been little progress. So it is vital that the EU finds the necessary resources to achieve a profound – and demonstrable – drop in global levels of malnutrition.

In their conclusions, the EU Development Ministers call on the Commission to adopt an action plan “setting out how the Commission will deliver on its stunting target” by the first half of 2014.

But EU aid is falling:
The need for additional effort is underscored by one of the other outcomes of the Development Ministers’ meeting. The Annual Report to EU leaders on EU Development Aid Targets highlights how much more the EU needs to do to achieve its aid targets. “To reach the collective EU target of 0.7% of GNI by 2015, the EU and its member states would need to mobilise an additional amount of approximately €46.8 billion”.

There is a great deal to be done, and quickly, if the problems of child malnutrition are to be properly addressed, and the first opportunity to put their laudable aims into practice is coming up very soon: the Nutrition for Growth Summit in London on 8 June.

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