Stephen O’Brien is the Member of Parliament for Eddisbury, the Prime Minister’s Envoy and UK Special Representative for the Sahel, a former DFID Minister and Co-Chair of the Conservative Friends of International Development.
I strongly welcome the launch, this week, of UNICEF’s significant and hard-hitting report on child nutrition. The report identifies both the key statistics and evidence from across the world about child nutrition rates, with particular regard to pre-natal care, breastfeeding, and various vitamin and mineral consumptions; and also outlines how, as a global community, we can tackle the pressing issues of child malnutrition and stunting. These are vital concerns which I have seen on my countless visits over the last 35 years to some of the most challenged and vulnerable parts of the world, especially in Africa, but also in Central and South America, in the Middle and Far East, and in the Indian sub-continent. The prominence of child (mal)nutrition has emerged strongly in the last few years amongst development partners, international organisations and NGOs. It was a key part of my focus during my time as an International Development Minister and, in my current role as the Prime Minister’s Envoy and UK Special representative to the Sahel in North and West Africa, it remains so now.
Stunting is the irreversible impact of not receiving enough nutritious food within the first 1000 days of life, from pregnancy to a child’s second birthday. Staggeringly, there are today around 165 million stunted children around the world – more than one quarter of the world’s children under age five are unable to develop physically or mentally as they should. Whilst the vast majority of children in the UK are well fed and nourished, the situation in many developing countries is in stark contrast, as 90% of children affected by malnutrition and stunting live in Africa and Asia. The link to extreme poverty is incontrovertible – as children in the poorest communities are more than twice as likely to be stunted, particularly in rural areas where as many as one third of children are affected. In addition to this, every year 2.3 million children die of malnutrition.