LONDON, February 22, 2021 - The predicted impact of the pandemic on child malnutrition is devastating. The 2021 UK aid budget earmarked for nutrition in developing countries is only 36% of that in 2019, even before cuts are made to reduce aid spending to 0.5% of Gross National Income.
Over recent years, the UK has led global efforts to reduce malnutrition and has fostered collaboration and innovation. It has saved and improved lives and reached over 50 million people through its work. This is a sector where Global Britain has flourished.
The effects of the pandemic are predicted to have catastrophic impacts on rates of child malnutrition. The estimated additional 9.3 million wasted children would lead to unimaginable, and avoidable, suffering. And the estimated additional 2.6 million stunted children would reverse years of progress. This will cost lives, with a predicted additional 163,000 child deaths. But it will also cost futures. Inadequate early nutrition undermines cognitive development. Pandemic-related malnutrition could lead to an estimated 4.4 million lost years of schooling.
In countries experiencing conflict and humanitarian emergencies, these cuts will pull the floor from underneath hundreds of thousands of children who are acutely malnourished. In these scenarios it is malnutrition and hunger that kills the most children, not bombs and bullets. In Yemen, 400,000 children are predicted to suffer from severe malnutrition in 2021.
We are concerned the UK is not recognising the scale of the problem, and the strength of its hand in the response. Tackling malnutrition is an area where the UK has clearly been world-leading. Hunger, food security, and malnutrition are related but different topics. Tackling and preventing extreme hunger and famine are clearly priorities of the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office and we welcome this and their announcement of a Famine Compact being worked through their G7 Presidency. But without prioritising nutrition, crises can be shifted into a protracted issue of undernutrition with lingering individual and societal impacts.
The Nutrition for Growth Year of Action, a legacy of the London 2012 Olympics, is now underway. The UK, the largest donor to nutrition in previous years, has yet to make a commitment placing the success of the process in limbo.
The Foreign Secretary has outlined 7 global challenges which will see that focus of UK aid. Without breaking the cycle of malnutrition, those efforts will be hampered and see a lower return on investment. Nutrition is an issue with wide-ranging impacts but without a strong focus and leadership can easily slip through the cracks. The UK can stop this happening.
COVID-19 has affected every aspect of life. For the poorest and most vulnerable people, its impact on nutrition could be disastrous. The UK is now in a position to act on this and we hope that the Foreign Secretary will urgently reconsider his approach. For the UK to turn its back on its world-leading nutrition work when the world is most looking to it for leadership would be unfathomable.
Kevin Watkins, CEO, Save the Children UK
David Miliband, President and CEO, International Rescue Committee
Jean-Michel Grand, Executive Director, Action Against Hunger UK
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