05/16/2012 12:39 pm ET Updated Jul 16, 2012

Too Much at Stake: The G8's Responsibility to Tackle Child Hunger

This piece is part of a series of blogs by leading NGOs to call attention to a range of issues that should be raised at the G8 summit at Camp David in rural Maryland from May 18-19.

Almost 1,000 days ago, on July 10, 2009, the G8 met at L'Aquila, Italy and issued a joint statement launching the 'L'Aquila Food Security Initiative' (AFSI), committing the member nations to a $22 billion investment over three years aimed at responding to the 'urgent need for decisive action to free humankind from hunger.'

Of the roughly 385,000 children born on that day, many of the poorest of them would have died in infancy and early childhood. Those who survived would now be nearing the critical 1,000th day between their mother's pregnancy and their second birthday.

The 1,000 days soon to be marked by those children also marks the closing of a window in which irreversible damage can be caused to a child's cognitive and physical development if he or she is undernourished. Fulfillment and implementation of the L'Aquila Initiative in the 1,000 days since the summit could have saved the lives and changed the destinies of millions of children.

Sadly, by the time of last year's summit, only 22 percent of the pledges had been fulfilled, with another 26 percent 'on track' -- a total of less than half, according to the G8 Deauville Accountability Report. As G8 leaders convene this week at Camp David, there is an imperative, both moral and political, to renew and redouble the commitments made in L'Aquila. Millions of lives hang in the balance.

Even in these recessionary times, an investment in nutrition and food security has tremendous economic returns. Countries where children are chronically undernourished and stunted as a result often lose approximately 2-3 percent of their GDP each year, a trend that we could reverse by scaling up nutrition interventions, particularly during the critical 1,000-day window.

The fight against hunger, especially child hunger, is at a critical crossroads. We have never had as much knowledge, evidence, political will and grassroots engagement as we do today to make malnutrition history. Despite this, almost one billion people face food insecurity and 171 million children are stunted, physically, mentally or both, because they did not have enough nutritious food to eat in their early childhood.

The United States is slated to fulfill its pledge with Senate authorization of the fiscal year 2012 budget, but President Barack Obama, as this year's summit host, has a particular responsibility to ensure that food and nutrition are not only on the agenda, but that the U.S. and G8 partners renew and strengthen their pledges.

As the CEO of an organization working on the front-lines of hunger in 25 of the world's poorest countries and a recent appointee to the United Nations' SUN (Scaling Up Nutrition) Lead Group, it is a responsibility I must bear as well, and I feel it deeply.

I traveled last year to the Horn of Africa during the height of the drought that pushed 12 million people to the brink of crisis. I had witnessed suffering and death caused by hunger before, but I was nonetheless shocked. We are at a point in human history when famine should no longer be in our vocabulary, and food security and hunger should no longer be viewed strictly as a 'poor country' problem. We can and must correct these deadly errors.

Concern this week has released a report, "The Time is Now: The G8's Opportunity to Make Undernutrition History," that details our recommendations on how the G8 funds should be distributed so that they have maximum impact.

We call on the G8 to renew its food security initiative and target women smallholder farmers in particular. According to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization, if women had equal access to productive resources, yields could increase by 20 to 30 percent in low-income countries, a jump that could greatly reduce food insecurity and increase purchasing power among small-scale farmers.

The G8 should also expand its investments beyond smallholder farming to also include other interventions such as social safety nets and protection systems, increased access to direct nutrition services and stronger health care systems. Social protection systems in countries like South Africa, Brazil and Mexico have helped lift the poorest out of extreme poverty and sustainably increase their food security.

It should, of course, also place particular focus on scaling up nutrition during that crucial 1,000 days between a woman's pregnancy and a child's second birthday.

Let us all commit to meeting again some 1,000 days from now, having actually taken 'decisive action to free humankind from hunger' and to report on the evidence of the millions of lives saved and futures changed by the commitments that must be made by the G8 at Camp David. There is too much at stake.

Tom Arnold will be speaking at three events around the 2012 G8 summit. This includes two events that Concern Worldwide is hosting along with fellow NGOs, academic institutions, for-profit companies and other stakeholders to push the G8 to renew its commitments to food security and nutrition. The first is on May 17 in Washington, DC and the second is on May 21 in Chicago. His third speaking engagement will be at the Chicago Council on Global Affairs Third Annual Symposium on Global Agriculture and Food Security on May 18 in Washington, DC, where President Obama will also be a speaker.