Africa: Unicef Executive Director Henrietta Fore Remarks At the Launch of the State of the World's Children Report

Photo: FAO
Promotional image for World Food Day 2019.

London — (As prepared) Good morning -- thank you for joining us as we launch this year's State of the World's Children Report.

Food is life itself.

From conception, through infancy, into childhood, it's the foundation of every child's physical and mental development.

But as this year's report shows, far too many children and young people are missing out on this right.

And not necessarily in the way you'd expect.

In the 20th century, if you thought of hunger and malnutrition, you'd likely picture a starving, emaciated child in a poor country -- probably in sub-Saharan Africa, or in a war zone.

While that challenge still exists today in the 21st century -- on a much smaller scale than 30 years ago -- hunger and malnutrition has a much different face.

It's the face of a child suffering from stunting or wasting -- her body smaller than her well-nourished peers, and her brain not fully developed, because she didn't receive proper nutrition in the first 1,000 days: not enough milk, eggs, fish, vegetables and fruits, for example.

It's the face of a school-age child in a low or middle-income country accessing food, but food of poor nutritional quality -- highly processed, packed with sugar and fats -- that is not giving him the vitamins and micronutrients his body and brain need. Putting him at risk of serious threats like iron-deficiency anaemia.

It's the face of an adolescent suffering from obesity, because it's cheaper for her parents to buy nutrient-poor, heavily processed food, rather than fresh fruit, vegetables or eggs, which aren't always available at an affordable price. Putting her at heightened risk of obesity, diabetes and cardiovascular disease down the road.

These realities are detailed in the report through new data and analysis, which bring to light some troubling new findings.

One in three children under five is not growing well -- either stunted, wasted or overweight.

At least one in two children suffer from "hidden hunger" or micronutrient deficiencies. They may look well-nourished, but in fact they're not getting sufficient nutrients and vitamins to grow and develop to their full potential.

And two in three young children are not fed the minimum diverse diet they need to grow healthy -- especially among the poorest in every society.

But the report's alarm is matched by an ambitious call to action -- one that's inspired by what works.

We call on governments to invest in large-scale nutrition programmes.

Like Rwanda, where hundreds of thousands of children in all districts of the country are benefitting from home-fortified foods.

Or India, where millions of adolescents receive iron and folic acid supplements at school to prevent anaemia.

We call on our private sector partners to help us scale-up proven innovations.

Such as in Bangladesh, where garment manufacturers have embraced the initiative "Mothers@Work" to support breastfeeding among working mothers.

Or in Chile, where private-sector-led food fortification has reduced the national rate of anaemia from 21 to one per cent.

We call on our civil society partners to demand that companies provide information so parents and caregivers can make better food choices.

Such as México's El Poder del Consumidor, a civil society group that has successfully advocated for "front-of-pack" labels that help children, young people and families choose healthy foods.

We call on communities to prioritize nutrition and deliver support and services to mothers and families.

Such as in Nepal, where female community volunteers ensure almost universal coverage of vitamin A supplementation for under-fives.

Or in Peru, where local community leaders are routinely monitoring children's growth, and delivering essential nutrition services.

We call on parents and families to put their children's nutrition first and improve how they feed children.

Ecuador, for example, found that adding one simple egg a day to the diet of young children significantly improved growth and reduced stunting by nearly half.

And a mass media campaign in Vietnam -- called "Talking Babies" -- convinced new mothers to breastfeed their babies, tripling the practice over three years.

We call on donors and partners to gather around children's nutrition in humanitarian emergencies, where the needs are so great.

Such as in Yemen, where donors and partners like UNICEF delivered therapeutic foods and essential nutrition interventions to over four million children last year. This included 7,000 metric tonnes of ready-to-use therapeutic food. Proving that we can deliver nutrition, even in the most challenging contexts -- if the will is there.

Finally, global and local food systems must ensure that all children, without exception, have access to nutritious, safe, affordable and sustainable foods. To make this happen, we must explore new ways to embed nutrition across health, water and sanitation, education and social protection systems. All of the ingredients that go into a well- nourished child. Support in one sector supports success in all.

Throughout, let's never lose sight of why we must act.

The most important reason is children. Their health, their wellbeing, their nutrition matter to all of us, because they will be architects of our common future.

And right now, children are counting on us to heed the alarms being raised in this report.

So let's learn from the data in this report.

Let's be guided by its recommendations.

Let's be inspired by the countries that are improving the quality of children's food and food environments.

Let's work together to ensure that all children, without exception, enjoy the nutritious, safe, affordable and sustainable diets they need to shape their own futures, as they shape a better future for all.

Thank you.

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