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John McCullough

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Child Survival, Maternal Health and Nutrition: The Tie That Binds and the Action Ahead

Posted: 06/08/2012 3:01 pm

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For a brief moment, the world is about to turn its attention to the issue of child survival and nutrition.

If you know anything about the problem, then you know it deserves even more of our attention. The upcoming meeting, Child Survival: Call to Action, being held June 14-15 in Washington, D.C., will bring together 700 leaders from the private sector, governmental bodies and civil society (including faith-based groups) to focus on the ways we can unite and work together to save the lives of more children and increase their chances of reaching their 5th birthday. It is a landmark event being convened by UNICEF, the United States, Ethiopia and India.

The event will certainly bring with it good news: through the work and interventions of governments, the private sector, and humanitarian groups like Church World Service, the rates of child mortality, according to UNICEF, dropped by one-third, just in the decade between 1990 and 2009.

That is good news. But there is still much to be done. More than 7 million children will die this year before they turn five. That is simply unacceptable.

Now, with the right tools in place, like better care and nutrition for pregnant and lactating women, better neonatal care and better nutrition for children at an earlier age (proper nutrition in the first 1,000 days of life, is such a critical factor here) we could, as a global community, reduce that rate to about 2 million deaths by 2035.

While still unacceptable, it is a good and reachable benchmark. We know that about one-third of all deaths of children in the world are due to the scourge of malnutrition. Hunger and malnutrition can be eradicated.

A recent report by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization gave us the broad outlines of how this might look.

The new policy document, prepared for the Rio+ 20 Summit in June, notes that the "quest for food security can be the common thread that links the different challenges we face and helps build a sustainable future. At the Rio Summit we have the golden opportunity to explore the convergence between the agendas of food security and sustainability to ensure that happens," said FAO Director-General José Graziano da Silva.

Yet, increasing food yield is not the only common thread that is important to child survival. As the head of an agency with a 67-year history of addressing hunger and poverty, I know that supporting the strengths of local food producers is vital. As well, CWS has long supported female smallholder farmers as a key to development.

But what excites me is that the attention that food nutrition is finally getting in anti-hunger circles is first and foremost about children, about tomorrow's generation.

The moral imperative in fighting malnutrition is at the top of the chart. When we as a humanitarian organization focus on providing nutritionally adequate food assistance in Pakistan to flood survivors, support child feeding programs in Indonesia that give them the proper start with micronutrient supplements, and strengthen local health structures in the Horn of Africa and the Sahel region, we are acting out of our faith and a sense of generosity and solidarity. It is simply wrong that children are allowed to die of malnutrition.

At the May G8 meeting at Camp David, U.S. and world leaders committed to the New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition, with an imperative to achieve sustainable global food security through dynamic public and private sector partnerships and with priority focus on urgent agriculture reform in Africa.

Going forward, as civil society and the faith community in particular enter into talks with those of government and the private sector at the Child Survival: Call to Action summit, we need to keep in mind both the moral imperative and good economic sense, without violating our values.

Whatever the motive, many corporations are now extending an invitation to the NGO community to begin a new conversation and collaboration. When we meet next week, we will be meeting to find common ground.

Ultimately we do a disservice to the poor and vulnerable when we don't avail ourselves of the opportunities to find out where that common ground is. We must also listen to the voices of those who look into the eyes of their children every day worrying about their survival. Fortunately my children celebrated their 5th birthday and beyond, and what a blessing they have been to me and to my wife.

Together, we must be determined that all children have that same possibility, because every child must be treated just as great as your own.

 
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