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International Development Agencies 'Unite for Nutrition' call for continued commitment and leadership

New Delhi, India, 19 November 2008: On the eve of Universal Children's Day, International agencies and donors made a joint commitment to support the Government of India to improve maternal and child nutrition in India. At an event today, 'Unite for Nutrition', jointly hosted by DFID, UNICEF, USAID and the World Bank, they underlined the need to build on political consensus and public support to sharpen strategies, which can help save millions of infants and mothers dying and suffering from under-nutrition.

The event was well attended by senior government officials, civil society, nutrition experts and heads of missions of the international development agencies. The nutrition leaders endorsed the Leadership Agenda for Action (recently released by the Coalition for Sustainable Nutrition Security in India) for reducing malnutrition. The panel at the event emphasised the importance of understanding and addressing the multiple causes of this serious challenge, particularly gender inequality and access to nutrition services.

The UK Minister for International Development, Douglas Alexander, said: "While India is undoubtedly a rising global power, we must not forget that it still faces huge development challenges - for example 58 percent of children under 5 are underweight in Bihar. As a group of international partners concerned with eradicating poverty we are impressed with the increasing funds committed by the Indian government to nutrition and we jointly stand ready to support these efforts"

The UK Minister for International Development, Douglas Alexander, spoke at the event applauding the commitment of the Government of India on nutrition but at the same time highlighting a much needed stronger effort to achieve nutrition security in India. Minister Alexander, who had just visited Bihar, said: "While India is undoubtedly a rising global power, we must not forget that it still faces huge development challenges - for example 58 percent of children under 5 are underweight in Bihar. As a group of international partners concerned with eradicating poverty we are impressed with the increasing funds committed by the Indian government to nutrition and we jointly stand ready to support these efforts"

Chairman of Leadership Coalition for Sustainable Nutrition in India, Professor MS Swaminathan said: "Seemingly impossible tasks can be achieved by mobilizing the power of partnership. This is the underlying principle behind 'A Leadership Agenda for Action' developed by a Coalition for Sustainable Nutrition Security in India.  'Unite for Nutrition' is the need of the hour. I hope we can see accelerated progress in ending the prevailing child malnutrition situation and in providing every child an opportunity for a healthy and productive life. Food for All and For Ever is the goal of the Coalition for Sustainable Nutrition Security in India. The initiative of DFID, UNICEF, USAID and the World Bank is hence a timely one."

"Malnutrition remains a major threat to the survival, growth and development of India's boys and girls," said UNICEF India Representative, Karin Hulshof. "Malnourished girls become malnourished women, who give birth to low birth weight infants, who suffer from poor nutrition in the first years of life. The best opportunity to break this cycle is to concentrate our efforts on improving the nutrition of infants and young children from conception through the first two years of life." On the eve of Universal Children's Day, International agencies and donors made a joint commitment to support the Government of India to improve maternal and child nutrition in India. At an event today, 'Unite for Nutrition', jointly hosted by DFID, UNICEF, USAID and the World Bank, they underlined the need to build on political consensus and public support to sharpen strategies, which can help save millions of infants and mothers dying and suffering from under-nutrition.

The event was well attended by senior government officials, civil society, nutrition experts and heads of missions of the international development agencies. The nutrition leaders endorsed the Leadership Agenda for Action (recently released by the Coalition for Sustainable Nutrition Security in India) for reducing malnutrition. The panel at the event emphasised the importance of understanding and addressing the multiple causes of this serious challenge, particularly gender inequality and access to nutrition services.

The UK Minister for International Development, Douglas Alexander, spoke at the event applauding the commitment of the Government of India on nutrition but at the same time highlighting a much needed stronger effort to achieve nutrition security in India. Minister Alexander, who had just visited Bihar, said: "While India is undoubtedly a rising global power, we must not forget that it still faces huge development challenges - for example 58 percent of children under 5 are underweight in Bihar. As a group of international partners concerned with eradicating poverty we are impressed with the increasing funds committed by the Indian government to nutrition and we jointly stand ready to support these efforts"

Chairman of Leadership Coalition for Sustainable Nutrition in India, Professor MS Swaminathan said: "Seemingly impossible tasks can be achieved by mobilizing the power of partnership. This is the underlying principle behind 'A Leadership Agenda for Action' developed by a Coalition for Sustainable Nutrition Security in India.  'Unite for Nutrition' is the need of the hour. I hope we can see accelerated progress in ending the prevailing child malnutrition situation and in providing every child an opportunity for a healthy and productive life. Food for All and For Ever is the goal of the Coalition for Sustainable Nutrition Security in India. The initiative of DFID, UNICEF, USAID and the World Bank is hence a timely one."

"Malnutrition remains a major threat to the survival, growth and development of India's boys and girls," said UNICEF India Representative, Karin Hulshof. "Malnourished girls become malnourished women, who give birth to low birth weight infants, who suffer from poor nutrition in the first years of life. The best opportunity to break this cycle is to concentrate our efforts on improving the nutrition of infants and young children from conception through the first two years of life."

Stressing the need for a strong partnership to tackle an issue as complex as nutrition security in India, Mission Director USAID/India, George Deikun said, "There are no single-actor solutions that can bring about sustained results. This is particularly relevant to the challenges of under-nutrition. We know that it will take a strong partnership to tackle an issue as complex as nutrition security and we are honoured to be a part of this important leadership effort. USAID recognizes the dedicated leadership of Professor M S Swaminathan in spearheading the Coalition. We now have the great responsibility to combine the clear technical agenda we have with the leadership and influence of those gathered to ensure that malnutrition ends in India."

India's under-nutrition statistics are worse than much of sub-Saharan Africa, with 43 percent of children below five underweight. In many of the poorer states, rates have deteriorated in the past 5 years, with Madhya Pradesh now at 60 percent and Bihar at 58 percent. The underweight prevalence in India is much higher among Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes and has increased over the last 7 years.

"Malnutrition is the other face of poverty in India. Malnourished children are much more susceptible to disease, have a reduced capacity to learn and, once in the job market, their productivity is low," said Regional Vice President, South Asia, The World Bank, Isabel Guerrero. "The prevention of maternal and child malnutrition is therefore a long term investment in India's people and its economy that will benefit the present generation as well as the next. The World Bank is delighted to work with DFID in taking this vital agenda forward in India and elsewhere."

India is home to more than a third of the world's undernourished children. India's under-nutrition statistics are worse than much of sub-Saharan Africa, with 43 percent of children below five underweight. In many of the poorer states, rates have deteriorated in the past 5 years, with Madhya Pradesh now at 60 percent and Bihar at 58 percent. India's child under-nutrition figures are behind where they would be expected to be at the current levels of per capita income– illustrating that other factors beyond income poverty are equally critical. The underweight prevalence in India is much higher among Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes and has increased over the last 7 years.

Under-nutrition can be attributed to a variety of factors including the lack of access to education for women, poor knowledge about good nutrition, lack of focus on under two's, and geographical distance to health and nutrition services.

Contact: 
Anuradha Dhar| DFID India |
+91 987 3087 7180  a-dhar@dfid.gov.uk
Angela Walker | UNICEF India | 
24690401 awalker@unicef.org
Meeta Parti I USAID India |
+ 91 9818128323  mparti@usaid.gov
Sudip Mozumder| The World Bank |
24617241 smozumder@worldbank.org

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