Yesterday, the same day that the London Olympic Games came to a close, British Prime Minister David Cameron co-hosted a hunger summit with Brazilian Vice-President Michel Temer. The event brought together world leaders, representatives from the private sector and NGOs to focus political attention, mobilise support and agree concrete action to tackle childhood malnutrition and stunting between now and the next Olympic Games in 2016 -- and, we hope, provided a springboard for wider action to tackle the root-causes of hunger.
The Prime Minister committed to deliver this event on his return from the May G8 summit, when he announced to the UK Parliament that he would build on progress made on food security at the Camp David summit by hosting a "major event on food security during the Olympics".
This announcement has been widely welcomed by civil society, especially from those NGOs that expressed concern with the limited focus on nutrition in the G8's food security initiative, the New Alliance. UK and international NGOs such as Concern Worldwide, Save the Children, Oxfam and Action Against Hunger have been actively working to address food security issues for many years, both at the country and community level and at the political policy level. It is very encouraging to see these issues now receiving the global attention they deserve and the political commitment needed to ensure results. Civil society is hopeful that this initiative, though positive and important in its own right, will secure ongoing international commitment to tackle the root causes of hunger around the world. High profile support for the event and these issues has been forthcoming from UNICEF's Goodwill ambassador David Beckham who met with the Prime Minister last week to discuss the event, and from Mo Farrah who attended the event on Sunday.
The issue of nutrition fits well with the Prime Minister's objective to create a lasting legacy from the 2012 Olympics and the overall spirit of the Games that is about fulfilling potential and inspiring future generations. We know that for nearly 170 million children around the world today, their ability to reach their potential is stifled within the first 1000 days of their lives due to a chronic lack of adequate and nutritious food. We know that stunted children are less healthy, physically less able than their peers, may do less well at school and earn less. A study in Guatemala demonstrated that improving physical growth among children under two years of age resulted in a 46 percent increase in adult wages when these children grew up.
This reality facing millions of the world's children is clearly incongruous with the achievements that we are witnessing at the London Olympics. Because of this, it makes sense that alongside the triumph of the Games, the host nation should choose to tackle the issues of malnutrition and childhood stunting, giving all children the opportunity to become a healthy and productive member of their community, or an elite athlete representing their country at the next or following Olympics. By co-chairing this event with Brazil, the host of the next Olympic Games in 2016, the UK government is setting a four-year interim target for progress, ensuring that citizens and civil society can hold governments and other partners to account for the commitments they have made on the road to achieving the global target that was agreed by the World Health Assembly to reduce the number of stunted children by 70 million by 2025.
UK and Brazilian leadership on this particular issue should be welcomed and commended, especially given the UK's ongoing commitment to development and Brazil's commitment and proven success in tackling hunger and malnutrition in its own country. Maintaining political support, attention and momentum will not be easy but the UK is well-placed to continue to play an important leadership role: the UK government is on-track to reach its aid target to spend 0.7 percent of GNI by 2013; the Prime Minister will co-chair the UN High Level Panel on the post-2015 agenda that will agree the successor to the MDGs and the UK's presidency of the G8 is expected to include a strong focus on development.
The event was an important opportunity to galvanise international attention and ensure concrete action and results. More broadly, it set an important example to other world leaders that it is possible to maintain support to the world's poorest people, even in times of economic difficulty. The Olympic vision to reach higher and faster could become a reality for many more children around the world following this Sunday's event.
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