Harriett Baldwin is the Member of Parliament for West Worcestershire and a member of the Work and Pensions Select Committee. Follow Harriett on Twitter.
Extreme poverty has been halved in the world since 1990. The number of children who die needlessly each year has fallen from 12 million to under 7 million. Britain's international aid has played a major role in this success and, this is something of which many of my constituents are rightly proud.
But growth in its most literal sense is still a major challenge – the lack of physical growth from malnutrition which is called stunting. Every year, malnutrition kills more than two million children – accounting for at least a third of all preventable child deaths. Malnutrition can irreversibly stunt the development of millions more. It leaves them unable to fight off illness and less able to work and learn. In total, one in four of the world’s children are stunted because they couldn’t get the nutrients they needed in the crucial first thousand days. They are not only left physically weaker, but their cognitive development also suffers and on average they lose 10 per cent of their lifetime earnings.
According to new research from Save the Children, chronically malnourished children are on average almost 20 per cent less literate than those who have a nutritious diet. In Ethiopia, one of the countries where the research was carried out, a shocking 44% of children are stunted. When I visited the country last year, I met mothers and children at a nutrition centre and saw with my own eyes the devastating physical impact of malnutrition. But the economic impact is just as devastating. Some countries lose 2–3 per cent of their GDP as a result of malnutrition.
The Government deserves credit for recognising that malnutrition is the Achilles heel of global development, and that momentum to reduce poverty in recent decades will stall if the world fails to act. David Cameron and Justine Greening are hosting a summit on 8 June – Nutrition for Growth – to bring world leaders together to drive ambitious action to address the crisis of malnutrition. As we approach this summit, the international community stand at a crossroads. Investing in nutrition now as a down-payment on future prosperity will lead to huge benefits for millions of children – and for the global economy. But if we fail to take advantage of this opportunity, we will fail a generation of children – and diminish the prospects of many countries and their people.
Now is the time for the UK to use the international standing our leadership on aid has afforded us – in order to leverage greater investment from other developed countries. Many international donors, including some of our European partners, are falling short. Globally, less than 0.4% of the aid budget is spent on nutrition, despite a wealth of evidence that it is one of the best development investments we can make. It is also vital that middle income countries who suffer high levels of malnutrition, such as India, are prepared to invest the proceeds of their growing economies in tackling malnutrition. In the final weeks ahead of the summit, I hope DFID and the Prime Minister use their considerable diplomatic skills to encourage other world leaders to step up to the plate.