UN, AU join forces against acute malnutrition

ADDIS ABABA, EHIOPIA: Efforts to tackle the silent emergency of acute and chronic malnutrition in Africa will receive additional traction this week when the African Union and partners join forces in Addis Ababa to celebrate the Africa Day for Food and Nutrition Security.

The high-level event on 31 October which will be opened by the Chairperson of the African Union Commission, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, focuses on “ensuring access to safe and nutritious food.” It calls upon governments, civil society, donors and other partners to prioritize food and nutrition security in all development planning and financing.

More than 30 per cent of all children under five in sub-Saharan Africa are suffering from stunted growth due to chronic malnutrition. They are too short for their age because of long-term insufficient nutrient intake and frequent infections.

Malnutrition has dramatic consequences: more than one million children under five die every year in sub-Saharan Africa, with malnutrition being the direct or indirect cause.

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“Stunting and other forms of malnutrition, including micronutrient deficiencies, during the first two years of life cause irreparable harm to children’s opportunities in life. These conditions impede their physical growth and lead to irreversible cognitive damage, hampering their learning abilities. Stunted girls are more likely to have small and low birth weight babies. All of this has a tremendous negative impact on the economic growth of countries. Investing in children’s and women’s nutrition is therefore not only the right thing to do, it is also a cost-effective investment in the development of African nations,” said Elhadj As Sy, UNICEF Regional Director for Eastern and Southern Africa.

The Africa Day for Food and Nutrition Security which was adopted by the 15th African Union Summit in Kampala in 2010 will be celebrated for the third time, both at the continental level in Addis Ababa and at the national level throughout Africa.

It aims to create awareness that addressing malnutrition can accelerate economic growth and pull millions of people out of poverty.  It has been estimated that investing in nutrition can increase a country’s gross domestic product (GDP) by at least 2-3 per cent annually.

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In the Copenhagen Consensus 2012, a group of world-renowned economists estimate a return on investment of US$30 for every US$1 spent on nutrition activities to reduce stunting.

Recognizing the key role that adequate nutrition plays in Africa’s social and economic development, partners at the regional and global level are gearing up their support for comprehensive interventions in food and nutrition security.

To help fight malnutrition, the European Union and UNICEF have launched the Africa Nutrition Security Partnership. The initiative is co-financed by the European Union through a grant of €15 million and supports four African countries that bear a heavy burden of child malnutrition – Burkina Faso, Ethiopia, Mali and Uganda – until 2015.

Through the grant, UNICEF is working with governments and partners in the four countries, targeting one million children and 600,000 pregnant and lactating women with high-impact nutrition specific and nutrition sensitive interventions.

“Malnutrition kills, and for those who survive, it can have irreversible consequences. Malnutrition also undermines development efforts and growth at all levels. We know that women are at the crux of agriculture, food and nutrition security in their roles as farmers, providers of food and mothers. This is why the food assistance, food security and gender policies we adopted address nutrition as a core objective in key sectors like agriculture, food security, health and water," said Gary Quince, Head of Delegation and Special Representative of the EU to the African Union.

The project is also operating at the continental level to address the multi-dimensional, underlying causes of malnutrition such as insufficient access to safe water and sanitation services, poor hygiene practices and lack of awareness about the importance of proper nutrition.

A key component is the engagement with the African Union and the African Regional Economic Communities to position nutrition high on the development agenda. The partnership fosters policy dialogue at regional and continental levels and focuses on institutional development, capacity building and data analysis.

The UNICEF-EU project is aligned with the Scaling up Nutrition or SUN Movement, a country-led, global initiative that aims at increasing the effectiveness of existing nutrition programmes by supporting national priorities, bringing together resources and fostering broad ownership and commitment to nutrition.

The SUN Movement focuses on the critical window of opportunity – the 1,000 days between a woman’s pregnancy and her child’s second birthday – during which better nutrition can have a measurable, lasting impact on growth, brain development and incidence of disabilities.

The SUN Movement aims at integrating nutrition goals across sectors including health, water, sanitation and hygiene, education, social protection, poverty alleviation, national development, food security and agriculture.

Its framework for action focuses on well-tested, low-cost and effective nutrition interventions and practices such as breastfeeding, appropriate complementary feeding and hand-washing. The initiative supports increasing the intake of vitamins and minerals through supplements and food fortification as well as strengthening the treatment and prevention of severe and moderate acute malnutrition.


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