Thank you, Mr. Chairman, for holding this hearing on food as a human right. My name is Robert Zachritz and I am the director of advocacy & government relations for World Vision, a Christian relief, development, and advocacy organization working in nearly 100 countries serving millions of children and families. World Vision is dedicated to working with children, families, and their communities worldwide to reach their full potential by tackling the causes of poverty and injustice.
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights is the bedrock of establishing this right and was adopted by the United Nations General Assembly on December 10, 1948. Two articles in particular declare the right to food:
This right has been affirmed in various other documents, including the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child and the 1996 World Food Summit. However, there is a big difference between stating a right and ensuring that a right is preserved.
The numbers around global hunger are staggering — more than 1 billion people at risk of hunger, which means one in every six persons on the earth. Globally, more than 150 million children under the age of 5 are stunted and another 19 million are severely wasted. Nearly 9 million children under the age of 5 die every year of preventable causes and malnutrition is the underlying cause of over one-third of these preventable deaths. Thus, the statistics starkly show that while it is a stated right, access to sufficient food for a healthy, productive life has not been secured for millions and the consequences are increased morbidity and mortality.
In this tight budget environment, improving nutrition is one of the most cost effective ways to address global problems. In May 2008, an expert panel of eight economists, including five Nobel Laureates, were invited to Copenhagen to rank the most cost effective interventions to address ten major global challenges:
[http://www.copenhagenconsensus.com accessed February 8, 2010]
After reviewing papers analyzing the challenges and possible solutions, the experts ranked the results. Out of 30 proposals, the panel ranked the top ten solutions that would have the greatest cost/benefit impact for our world as follows:
|1.||Micronutrient supplements for children-vitamin A & zinc||Malnutrition|
|2.||The Doha development agenda||Trade|
|3.||Micronutrient fortification (iron and salt iodization)||Malnutrition|
|4.||Expanded immunization coverage for children||Diseases|
|6.||Deworming and other nutrition programs at school||Malnutrition & Education|
|7.||Lowering the price of schooling||Education|
|8.||Increase and improve girls’ schooling||Women|
|9.||Community-based nutrition promotion||Malnutrition|
|10.||Provide support for women’s reproductive role||Women|
The number-one, most cost-effective intervention with the highest rate of return was micronutrient supplements for children. Also, five of the top 10 most cost effective solutions related specifically to nutrition. Three of the five explicitly target undernutrition of children and two, fortification of food with iron and iodine and community-based nutrition promotion, are critical for children and would benefit the general population, as well. The conclusion is clear: fighting hunger and child malnutrition is a cost-effective intervention.
Given the “rights” framework of special care and assistance for mothers and children, I want to focus the rest of my comments around child malnutrition.
The January 2007 Lancet series reviewing the literature on child development showed that beyond the short-term consequences of increased mortality, morbidity and disability, childhood malnutrition has debilitating long-term consequences of stunted physical and cognitive development, lower economic productivity, and greater susceptibility to disease.
Among the developing countries, approximately one third or more than150 million children under 5 years of age are stunted. Specifically, Africa has the highest prevalence at 40 percent, while the greatest number of stunted children are found in south-central Asia. [Victoria CG, Adair L, Fall C, Hallal PC, Martorell R, Richter l, Sachdev H, for the Maternal and Child Undernutrition Study Group. Maternal and child undernutrition: consequences for adult health and human capital. The Lancet 2008; 371: 340-357.]
There are several effective interventions that will prevent stunting, including:
For the mother;
For the child;
Adequate complementary feeding is critical to preventing stunting. This is also the most complex intervention, because complementary foods for children 6-24 months need to be contextually appropriate, both in terms of using locally available foods and optimizing positive culture beliefs and behaviors, while minimizing or changing negative behaviors.
On February 16, 2008, the Lancet published a study comparing two different World Vision child and maternal health programs which were funded through USAID PL 480, title II non-emergency programs. Food-assisted maternal and child health and nutrition programs usually targeted underweight children younger than 5 years of age. However, evidence suggested that targeting nutrition interventions earlier in life, before children become undernourished, might be more effective for reduction of childhood undernutrition.
The three-year study compared two programs for maternal and child health and nutrition. One a preventive model, targeting all children aged 6-23 months and a second recuperative model, targeting underweight children aged 6-60 months. Both models also targeted pregnant and lactating women. The programs included such interventions as health education, growth monitoring, supplementation, mother’s clubs, food-distribution points for monthly food rations, prenatal and postnatal consultations, and home visits for newborn infants or severely undernourished children.
The study concluded that the preventive program was more effective for the reduction of childhood undernutrition than the traditional recuperative model by 4-6 percent.