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WFP and UNICEF to scale up nutrition to fight child stunting in Southern and Eastern Africa

JOHANNESBURG, South Africa, 18 January 2010 – The United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) and UNICEF agreed today to work together to reduce levels of child stunting in Southern and Eastern Africa and accelerate progress toward achieving the UN Millennium Development Goals by 2015. 

UNICEF Eastern and Southern Africa Regional Director Elhadj As Sy and WFP Southern, Eastern and Central Africa Regional Director Mustapha Darboe have signed an agreement setting the twin goals as joint priorities, while also noting that considerable progress has already been made to address nutritional factors that compromise young children’s health.

“We’re working together to address the scourge of child stunting caused by nutritional deprivation between birth and the age of two years,” said Darboe. “It’s shocking to note that there are twice as many stunted children in the region as the number of underweight children.”

Stunting (low height for age) indicates nutritional deprivation early in life – from conception up to two years of age. Unlike underweight, which is a composite of both stunting and wasting (low weight for height), stunting past the age of two is irreversible, and has long-term debilitating effects: Children who are stunted are at greater risk of illness and death. It is estimated that countries lose over three per cent of their GDP through the effects of under-nutrition.

According to the latest data from UNICEF, the prevalence of stunting in the developing world has declined from 40 per cent to 29 per cent between 1990 and 2008, but the progress has been stagnant in Africa.  Over the same period, stunting in Africa has only been reduced from 38 per cent to 34 per cent. Of the 24 countries that account for 80 per cent of the world’s stunting burden, seven are in the Eastern and Southern Africa region.

“Investing in child nutrition pays high dividends for a country’s social and national development,” said UNICEF’s As Sy. “Without action, billions of dollars in revenue will continue to be lost for the African nations experiencing the highest burdens of malnutrition. National nutrition strategies need to tackle not only the root causes of stunting, but also to target the most vulnerable children and their families – those in remote areas, or from the poorest and  marginalized communities.”

Only 11 African countries are on track to reaching the Millennium Development Goal of halving the proportion of people suffering from hunger between 1990 and 2015. Of these 11 countries, only four – Mozambique, Botswana, Swaziland and Angola – are in Eastern and Southern Africa.

About WFP
WFP is the world's largest humanitarian agency fighting hunger worldwide.  Each year, on average, WFP feeds more than 90 million people in more than 70 countries.

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UNICEF is on the ground in over 150 countries and territories to help children survive and thrive, from early childhood through adolescence.  The world’s largest provider of vaccines for developing countries, UNICEF supports child health and nutrition, good water and sanitation, quality basic education for all boys and girls, and the protection of children from violence, exploitation, and AIDS.  UNICEF is funded entirely by the voluntary contributions of individuals, businesses, foundations and governments. For more information about UNICEF and its work visit: www.unicef.org

For more information please contact:
Peter Smerdon, WFP/Nairobi +254 207 622 179,
Mob. + 254 733 528 911

Claudia Altorio, WFP/Johannesburg
Tel +27 11 517 1655, Mob. +27 82 908 1448

Kun Li, UNICEF/Nairobi,
Tel +254 20 7622218,

Shantha Bloemen, UNICEF/Johannesburg,
Tel +27 79 495 5938,




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