Think About Hunger This Human Rights Day

By Meg Carter, ChildFund Sponsorship Communication Specialist

When you think of human rights, what comes to mind? For many, the phrase means the rights of freedom, equality and security; protection from slavery, torture or arbitrary arrest.

I think of hunger. So do the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights (UNHCHR) and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. Both recognize the fundamental human right to be free from hunger.

Ethiopia meal

An Ethiopian family’s meal. Photo by Jake Lyell.

In June 2007, when I first arrived in Busia, Uganda, a district bordering Kenya and Lake Victoria, I marveled at its fertility. The corn, or maize as it’s called overseas, was higher than an elephant’s eye. Leafy mounds of soil lining the dirt paths that connect each household hid new tubers — potatoes, sweet potatoes, yams and cassava.

Matooke, a plantain every Ugandan woman steams in banana leaf wrappers with crushed peanuts and chunks of smoked fish, was piled high in marketplaces. If a tomato spoiled before I could eat if, I tossed it outdoors; within a few weeks, a sturdy plant sprouted, its seeds warmed by the equatorial sun. Uganda had problems, but hunger was not one of them.

Yet when I left Busia six months later, we spoke nervously of food security. The rains had come, but not at the right times, duration, location or intensity. For centuries, rain fell reliably in certain parts of Uganda, so farmers traditionally settled and cultivated there. Then, suddenly, the rain swerved around Uganda’s arable land to spaces uninhabitable for water — forests, infested with deadly tsetse flies, and deserts, the preserve of nomadic herders. Uganda’s second harvest was not plentiful in 2007.   

Global climate change infringes on the human right to adequate food.

Ugandan mothers

Mothers in Uganda learn how to prepare healthy dishes at a nutrition workshop. Photo by Jake Lyell.

Hunger kills more children every year than AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis combined. Poor nutrition causes half of all deaths in children under age five. One of every six children in developing countries is underweight; one in three is stunted.  

South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa form hunger’s center of gravity. In Africa alone, 23 million children attend school hungry.

Small farmers make up fully half of the world’s food-insecure population. Sadly, despite producing some food, they still lack the resources to meet their families’ nutritional needs. Another 30 percent of the chronically hungry are fishers, herders and people who live in rural regions but do not own land. Poor urban dwellers round out the hunger rolls. The U.N.’s Food and Agriculture Organization identifies four dimensions of food security: availability, access, utilization and stability. Failure of any one of these means hunger.

Worse, even when consuming sufficient calories, children can still suffer from micronutrient malnutrition. So-called hidden hunger — harder to diagnose, since it doesn’t present as a wasted body — is caused by an inadequate supply of vitamins, minerals or trace elements. And it impairs physical, emotional, behavioral and cognitive development.

Indonesian child

In Indonesia, hunger is also a serious problem.

Of the 20 countries most affected by hunger, ChildFund works in eight: Afghanistan, Ethiopia, Kenya, India, Indonesia, the Philippines, Uganda and Vietnam.

According to UNICEF, Ethiopia, India, Sri Lanka and Vietnam are among the nations most successful in scaling up children’s nutrition and improving government policies. During the past decade, Ethiopia reduced stunting from 57 percent to 44 percent through a national nutrition program, provision of safety nets in the poorest areas and nutrition assistance at the community level.

We still have far to go. Please help us recognize Human Rights Day by giving a gift from the Nutrition and Agriculture section of our catalog.

The Real Horrors of Halloween for Children in Developing Countries

By Cynthia Price, Director of Communications

The other week I was thinking about how much we love to scare ourselves at Halloween. We dress in creepy costumes and go to horror movies. Most of the scariness, of course, is just pretend.

But at ChildFund, we’re all too aware of the threats that are much more real and much more frightening to children living in developing countries.

boy with waterFew things are scarier than unsafe drinking water, hunger, diseases and even a lack of education. Here are the frightening statistics:

  • Unsafe drinking water. Each year 1.6 million people die from diarrheal disease linked to lack of access to safe drinking water and basic sanitation, says the World Health Organization. Even more frightening is that 90 percent of these are children under 5.
  • Hunger. In developing countries, 10.9 million children under 5 die each year, reports the United Nations. Malnutrition and hunger-related diseases cause 60 percent of the deaths.
  • Malaria. Malaria kills a child somewhere in the world every 30 seconds, according to UNICEF.
  • Lack of education. More than 72 million children do not have access to quality basic education and of those two-thirds are girls, according to the Global Campaign for Education.

If you would like to make the world a little less scary this year, then consider a Halloween gift to ChildFund’s Children’s Greatest Needs fund.

Drought: A Worldwide Problem

By Loren Pritchett, ChildFund staff writer

withered crops

Withered crops

In recent months, more than 62 percent of U.S. states have experienced moderate to exceptional drought, and the children and families in our Oklahoma program areas are feeling the heat.

Crops like soy beans, wheat and corn have withered or died, producing low yields and forcing farmers to sell off livestock they can no longer afford to feed; while seasonal farm hands go without work. “Families who earn income in the summer months by helping with harvesting of hay and crops did not have jobs this summer,” says Linda Ehrhardt, ChildFund’s southern plains area manager.

With an already limited income, families in our Oklahoma program areas are bracing for what experts are predicting to be a nationwide surge in food prices. “Many of our families live on fixed incomes and receive assistance to help them feed their families,” Ehrhardt says. “The amount of that help does not increase every time the prices of groceries increase – leaving our families hungry by the end of the month.”

As ChildFund works with its local partners to monitor the situation and identify ways to support hard-hit families on the home front, we are reminded of the extreme hardships that millions of children and families in our programs in Africa have been experiencing since 2011. The severe drought that began last year in the Horn of Africa is mirrored in the Sahel region and continues to claim lives and destroy crops, livestock and families’ way of life.

In July 2011, food prices hit record highs in Ethiopia and Kenya and the number

Food distributions

Food distribution in Kenya

of individuals experiencing food insecurity grew to more than 3.75 million. With the help of ChildFund, local NGOs and government agencies, families living in those areas received clean drinking water and food assistance to help feed their children. For many, this was the kind of hope and opportunity needed to rebuild their broken communities, but, today, dry conditions are back.

This year, with the short rains failing and the long rains coming late, once again crop yields have been low in eastern and western Africa. Food prices have spiked and families are in trouble.

Food Distribution in the Gambia

Food distribution in the Gambia

This month, known as the lean season, Kenya will see food insecurity reach its peak. In Ethiopia, more than 3.76 million people will require food assistance until December. And in the Gambia, many children will be at risk for malnourishment or worse. Families who have planted crops are out of food and are depending on the small number of crops that will survive the drought. They will scramble for extra scraps and may even eat the seeds they had planned to plant next year. From now until October, food, milk and water will be hard to find.

Food Distribution

Food distribution in Ethiopia

Focusing our attention on the suffering in both eastern and western Africa, ChildFund will provide the necessary assistance to help families and children endure the drought season. It is paramount that we continue to provide access to clean water, sanitation and assistance with agricultural tools and activities but remedying food insecurity is even more pressing. ChildFund will provide food distributions, nutritional support and monitoring, as well as psychosocial support to help those experiencing the realities of drought.

For more information on how you can help children and families dealing with drought in our program areas, visit and help change a life.

One Thousand Days to Act on Child Undernutrition

by Anne Lynam Goddard, ChildFund President and CEO

I’ve often said that childhood is a one-time opportunity.

It was heartening to find strong support for this concept at the “Partnering to Reduce Child Undernutrition” session held during the MDG Summit this week in New York. Secretary of State Hilary Rodham Clinton and Michaél Martin, T.D., Ireland’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, co-hosted the event, which spotlighted the critical 1,000-day nutrition window that starts with a mother’s pregnancy and continues until the child is 2 years old.

Leaders from governments, international organizations, civil society organizations and the private sector emphasized that undernutrition for children under age 2 causes physiological and mental limitations that can never be made up.

At this meeting, two objectives emerged:
1) Call attention to the 1,000-day nutrition window that ensures a healthier and more prosperous future for children.
2) Gain multilateral support for alleviating child hunger and undernutrition over the next 1,000 days.

Foreign Minister Martin spoke movingly of Ireland’s history of famine. Following a 2008 study on hunger by Ireland’s Concern Worldwide, Germany’s Welthungerhilfe and the U.S.-based International Food Policy Research Institute, Ireland has committed 20 percent of Irish aid to reducing global hunger.

Burden of Knowledge
As Josette Sheeran, World Food Programme executive director, noted, “Once you have the burden of knowledge, you have to do something about it.”

Secretary of State Clinton — reiterating the U.S. government’s support for country “ownership” — pointed out that food security projects come and go. Thus, it’s necessary to build capacity in countries so they are able sustain efforts over time.

In our work with communities around the world, ChildFund emphasizes nutrition as a key developmental factor for healthy and secure infants. Two years ago ChildFund signed on to the Scaling Up Nutrition (SUN) framework for supporting sustainable nutrition initiatives in countries with high malnutrition. The SUN Roadmap outlines a short list of actionable priorities to improve infant and child nutrition, which now has the support of the 1,000 days initiative.

Many basic things can be done to alleviate undernutrition such as fortifying foods, making vitamins A and E available to children and improving agricultural practices. We heard encouraging reports from Brazil, Ghana and Malawi — all have made great strides in reducing malnutrition in their countries. It’s essential to share these success stories and lessons learned.

On the corporate side, the Coca-Cola Co. and the Nike Foundation are two prominent supporters of improved nutrition for children. Coke has developed a new fortified nutrition drink that has been used with success in the Philippines.

Nike is committed to supporting efforts that lead to healthy adolescent girls. Foundation President Maria Eitel noted that in the U.S. we tell young girls that if they try, they can be anything they want to be. But if we tell that to young girls in developing nations, “it’s a lie,” she said. There are many hurdles in their way.

Ensuring good neonatal and child nutrition is one of the first steps toward breaking down the obstacles that limit children’s potential.

Next Steps
For the 1,000 days initiative to succeed, three components are essential:

  • political will
  • resources
  • structure in the form of a coordinating body.

On Tuesday, we certainly saw political will. The heads of Unicef, World Health Organization, World Food Programme, the U.N. Secretary-General, foreign ministers and ministers of finance were present — and we had strong representation from the private sector and development organizations. We can check that box.

The matter of resources is not so clear. Certainly Ireland has made a firm commitment, but a lot more people and organizations will have to step up to the plate.

Also unclear is the structure of the movement going forward. Specifics are currently lacking. To maximize this opportunity we need to build momentum over the next 1,000 days to brand the initiative and draw more supporters. Additional meetings are planned this week to firm up commitments from various participants in the MDG Summit, and a follow-up meeting has been set for June 2011.

We all share in the “burden of knowledge” that inadequate nutrition for children under the age of 2 creates deficiencies that can never be overcome.

For each child, we have a one-time shot at getting it right.

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