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Facing Global Hunger | Food as a Right

Testimony of Robert Zachritz, World Vision director of advocacy and government relations, before the Tom Lantos Human Rights Caucus

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.
Food as a Right
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:
Article 3 states, “everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person.” (Please note that inherit to the right to life is the ability to be nourished.)
Article 25 states in section 1 that “everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food…..” In section 2 it states, “motherhood and childhood are entitled to special care and assistance.”
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.
Fighting Hunger is Cost Effective
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:
  • Air pollution
  • Conflicts
  • Diseases
  • Education
  • Global warming
  • Malnutrition and munger
  • Sanitation and water
  • Subsidies and trade barriers
  • Terrorism
  • Women in development
[Source: 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:
     SOLUTION                                                                                            CHALLENGE
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
5. Biofortification                                                                                        Malnutrition
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.
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.]
How to Prevent Stunting?
There are several effective interventions that will prevent stunting, including:
   For the mother;
  • Ensuring an adequate diet for pregnant and lactating mothers
  • Appropriate birth spacing (greater than 24 months)
    For the child;
  • Ensuring appropriate diet of children under 2 years of age (Encourage exclusive breast feeding until 6 months, appropriate complementary feeding and weaning foods, and intake of sufficient micronutrients, such as vitamin A, iron, iodine and zinc.)
  • Promoting healthful sanitation practices and effective prevention and treatment of common child illnesses like diarrhea, malaria and respiratory diseases
  • Promoting appropriate feeding practices during illnesses
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.
Program Example — Lancet Study of WV’s Child Undernutrition Program in Haiti
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.
  • Fully fund the authorized level for the Food for Peace Program (PL 480, title II) at $2.5 billion in FY 2011, and assure that the minimum levels for non-emergency programs are provided each year.
  • Fund McGovern-Dole International Food for Education program at $300 million in FY 2011.
  • Support the Global Hunger and Food Security Initiative. President Obama requested $1.76 billion FY 2011 package to fulfill the U.S. G8/G20 commitments to food security of $3.3 billion over three years. (The total G8/G20 commitment was $20 billion over three years.) The request adds a new $200 million element specifically focused on nutrition to the $1.15 billion proposed for agriculture development programs.
  • Assure that the World Bank Global Agriculture and Food Security Program is Effectively Designed and Administered. As part of the Administration’s FY 2011 food security package, the Treasury Department would contribute $408 million to a new World Bank Global Agriculture and Food Security Program, which includes country-led plans. Currently, the framework for this Program calls for funding interventions through government agencies and, to a lesser degree, for loans to the private sector. The development and implementation of the country plans should also assure involvement of and assistance through community-based organizations, civil society organizations and other non-governmental organizations and actors that represent at or effectively work with low-income and underserved populations.
  • Support passage of the HR 3077 mdash; Global Food Security Act of 2009, which was introduced by Reps. Betty McCollum (D-MN), Donald Payne (D-NJ) and Jo Ann Emerson (R-MO).
  • Support passage of HR 2817 mdash; the “Roadmap to End Hunger" by implementing the legislation introduced by Reps. Jim McGovern (D-MA) and Jo Ann Emerson (R-MO).