The Human Cost of Empty Promises

June 10, 2013
Originally published in: The Huffington Post

The G8 summit in Northern Ireland is a real opportunity to tackle hunger. It is time that the international community recognizes that malnutrition is not simply a result of poverty — it is also a cause.

LONDON, UNITED KINGDOM — We now know what needs to be done and when, so why the inaction? The G8 summit in Northern Ireland is a real opportunity to tackle hunger.

The eyes of the world will focus on a small town in Northern Ireland next week when Enniskillen hosts the G8 summit. The town has played a noticeable role in Irish history. It witnessed one of the bloodiest events in Ireland’s history — the Remembrance Day bombing. Some 140 years earlier, in the 1840s, it was also home to one of the worst workhouses established to lessen the impact of An Gorta Mór, the great Irish famine. The workhouse opened towards the end of 1845 and, over the following six years, was home to the deaths of over 2,000 inmates.

The humanitarian response to the Irish famine came from many corners of the globe, including, famously, the Ottoman Sultan Abdulmecid and the Native American Choctaws. Many calls of “never again” were heard. Those calls reverberated for many generations when, in 1963, John F. Kennedy commented, “We have the ability…we have the means, we have the capacity to eliminate hunger from the face of the earth in our lifetime. We only need the will.”

Fifty years on, the will to end hunger has yet to deliver: A billion people will go to bed hungry tonight. The ripple effects of poor nutrition are deep and wide-reaching. This year, the lives of 2.3 million children will end due to hunger. A further 165 million children are stunted. Hunger prevents generations of young people from reaching their full potential and realizing their dreams. Hunger undermines the progress being made by the world’s least-developed countries, reducing the earning potential of adults by as much as 20 percent.

The scourge of hunger is an affront to our humanity and we must act together to end it.

There is a symbolism in the world’s leaders gathering in Enniskillen. This is an important year in which to strengthen that political leadership, to secure the necessary policy and financial commitments, and to build national and international accountability around commitments already made in the area of food and nutrition security. It is also the year in which we must — together — amplify the need for a bold goal on food and nutrition security in the post-2015 development framework.

We are facing a remarkable, unprecedented, opportunity: We can free the next generation from hunger.

Things have changed since 1963: We now know what needs to be done. We need to invest in smallholder farmers and support alternative rural livelihoods. We need to build community resilience to undernutrition. And we need to scale up nutrition interventions and strengthen health systems.

We also know when we need to act: The 1,000 days from pregnancy to age two is the critical period in which a child must receive the right nutrition. Science and research have shown that undernutrition can be addressed by focusing on this ‘window of opportunity.’ Cost-effective and high-impact interventions exist. With political leadership, food and nutrition security can be achieved.

Less than one percent of the world’s development aid is spent on life-saving, basic nutrition investments that we know to be among the best, most cost-effective solutions to breaking the cycle of poverty and hunger.

It is time that the international community recognizes that malnutrition is not simply a result of poverty — it is also a cause.

The UK has never before had political momentum and influence as it does today. It is leading the world in the fight against hunger. At home, the government reached its target of spending 0.7 percent of Gross National Income on aid. At a global level, it is chair of the 2013 G8 and hosted the Nutrition for Growth Day of Action on June 8th, which brought together business leaders, scientists, governments, and civil society to make commitments to tackle malnutrition.

Last summer, Prime Minister Cameron — together with the Brazilian Government — set a global target to prevent 25 million children from being stunted by the 2016 Rio Olympic Games. If we have any hope of reaching this goal, we need pledges made by G8 leaders and other members of the international community to be turned into concrete actions, measured and tracked to ensure accountability and transparency.

The Great Hunger rocked Ireland nearly two centuries ago. It is an obscenity that hunger still stalks children across the developing world today. If we do not act, we are at risk of losing 9.7 million children younger than five years old by the first day of the 2016 Rio Olympic Games. That is 8,000 children we could lose each and every day — all because of a cause that is completely preventable, if world leaders do not fall short on their promises.

JFK predicted an end to hunger 50 years ago, if only the will existed. Enniskillen presents an opportunity for the world’s largest countries to show that they have that will.