|© UNICEF/2009/Allison Scott|
|Permament Representative of the Republic of Mozambique to the UN Filipe Chidumo (left) and UNICEF Executive Director Ann M. Veneman at a joint session of Executive Boards at the United Nations (right).|
By Elizabeth Kiem
NEW YORK, USA, 26 January 2009 – With more than 1 billion people in the world suffering from food price fluctuations and nutrition concerns, tackling global food scarcity and high food prices is a top item on the agendas of United Nations agencies.
With that goal, the executive boards from the World Food Program, United Nations Development Program, United Nations Population Fund and UNICEF gathered on Friday to discuss ways of ensuring the success of the Millennium Development Goal to eradicate hunger in an atmosphere of ill-sustained agricultural production, widespread malnutrition, and a deepening world financial crisis.
In opening remarks to the joint session, UNICEF Executive Director Ann M. Veneman praised the interagency collaboration established in July 2008 to provide a comprehensive framework for action (CFA) to cope with food increases that are leading to accumulated long-term vulnerability among the world’s poor.
Systemic causes of hunger
At the root of high food prices are a number of causes. Long-standing under-investment in agriculture had created a ‘silent crisis’ long before the remarkable spike in food prices beginning in mid-2008. The crisis was worsened by the trend created by a booming bio-fuel industry in which food crops were sacrificed for biofuels. High energy costs and fuel prices for transportation also contributed.
|© UNICEF/2009/Allison Scott|
|UN resident coordinator of Moazmbique Ndolamb Ngokwey (right) speaks at a joint session of Executive Boards at the United Nations.|
Women and girls are at particular risk, noted Veneman. She said that food insecurity often exacerbates gender inequality and that women who live in conflict areas often go without food rather than risk harm.
The impact of hunger trickles down, hindering other MDG efforts like education and child mortality. Schooling is often abandoned to save money for food and families facing food insecurity will sell off household assets.
In addition, undernutrition has a direct and negative effect on the efficaciousness of antiretroviral drugs for patients with HIV.
Mozambique case study
Board Members heard a presentation about the collaborative approaches currently being implemented in Mozambique, which has asked for UN assistance in responding to high food prices and is one of 27 countries chosen by the UN for a coordinated UN response.
“We are seizing on this crisis as an opportunity,” said UN resident coordinator of Moazambique Ndolamb Ngokwey.
Mozambique is particularly vulnerable to market spikes in prices. The initial government response, said Mr. Ngokwey, lacked a component for social protection.
“In the government strategy… the focus was on production. Produce food to reduce the dependency of the government to food imports. So the UN contribution was… to add a component on social protection because children, women and other vulnerable groups are not going to wait for food to be produced.”
Social safety net
UNICEF is leading the social services tract of the CFA by scaling-up school feeding programmes, supplemental nutrition centres and cash-transfer arrangements. These interventions have shown evidence of their success, noted Mr. Ngokwey.
With 26 other countries identified by the joint task force for an intensified, coordinated response to food insecurity, Mozambique is expected to show great returns when new data become available in six months time.