Remarks by UNICEF Executive Director Henrietta Fore at the Nutrition for Growth (N4G) Kick-Off Event

As prepared for delivery

14 December 2020

NEW YORK, 14 December 2020 — "Distinguished partners, colleagues, ladies and gentlemen. On behalf of everyone at UNICEF, I extend my thanks to the Government of Canada and the Government of Bangladesh for bringing us together today; and to the Government of Japan for launching the Nutrition for Growth Year of Action, which sets in motion a year-long effort to mobilize commitments to accelerate global progress for nutrition.

"Since 2000, the world has reduced the proportion of children under 5 suffering from stunting by one third and the number of children who are stunted by 55 million. This remarkable achievement proves that positive change for nutrition is possible and is happening at scale.

"However, the COVID-19 pandemic threatens to take away many of the gains and achievements made in child nutrition in recent decades. As we embark on the Year of Action, the challenges are clear:

"One in three of the world’s children under age five is malnourished and at least two in three are still not receiving the minimum diet they need to grow, develop and learn to their full potential. That hurts not just children – it hurts us all

"The pandemic has dramatically affected families’ lives and livelihoods: disrupting access to nutritious, affordable diets; disrupting essential nutrition services; and negatively impacting child feeding practices in many countries around the world.

"For example, data from UNICEF estimates, that nearly 87 million fewer children will get the two doses of vitamin A they need this year. A 35 per cent decline over last year. And that 41 million adolescent girls and boys will not benefit from programmes for the prevention of anemia because of school closures.

"There is growing evidence that the COVID-19 pandemic is undermining child nutrition across the world. As we will hear later, in the absence of decisive and timely action, we estimate that COVID-19 could result in a 20 per cent rise in the number of wasted children by 2022— and an additional nine million children with wasting needing critical nutrition services — mostly in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia.

"However, when faced with challenges, we will not simply stand by. This is why earlier this year, UNICEF, together with our sister UN agencies FAO, WFP and WHO, issued a Call to Action to prevent and treat child malnutrition in the context of COVID-19.

"The Year of Action, and the years that follow present us with unique opportunities to respond, recover and reimagine better, more effective nutrition policies, programs and actions for the future. And to emerge from the COVID-19 crisis stronger than before: this is not the time to lower our ambition for the nutrition of children and women.

"As Executive Director of UNICEF, today, I make three commitments to accelerate progress towards achieving the nutrition-related targets of the Sustainable Development Goals:

"Our first commitment is an organizational and programmatic commitment to accelerate nutrition results at scale. These days we are launching the UNICEF Nutrition Strategy 2020-2030, which will guide UNICEF nutrition programming in the final decade towards 2030. The strategy outlines our goal to protect and promote diets, services and practices that support good nutrition for all children, adolescents and women – in both development and humanitarian contexts.

"We will roll out its implementation in more than 130 countries and will reach at least 500 million children, adolescents and women with policies and programs that support the delivery of nutritious and safe diets, essential nutrition services, and positive nutrition practices to prevent malnutrition in all its forms through early childhood, middle childhood and adolescence.

"Aligned with UNICEF’s Gender Action Plan, I commit to make UNICEF’s nutrition programming both gender responsive and gender transformative, contributing to promote gender equality and end gender-based discrimination.

"Our second commitment is a financial commitment to ensure adequate financial resources to deliver on UNICEF’s ambition for nutrition. In line with our Nutrition Strategy 2020-2030, Nutrition will remain an organizational priority for UNICEF in our Strategic Plan 2022-2025, both in development and humanitarian action.

"UNICEF will secure an annual investment of at least US$ 700 million in nutrition programs for children, adolescents and women – in each year of UNICEF’s forthcoming Strategic Plan (2022-25).

"In addition to our financial resources, to support increased allocation of domestic financing for maternal and child nutrition, UNICEF commits to providing technical support to at least 20 national governments each year to improve public financing for essential nutrition actions.

"Such essential actions for investment include safeguarding and promoting access to nutritious, safe, and affordable diets; improving maternal and child nutrition services through pregnancy, infancy, and early childhood; improving food environments for school-age children and adolescent girls and boys; and enhancing services for the early detection and treatment of child wasting and other forms of life-threatening malnutrition.

"Our third commitment is to accelerate global efforts for the prevention, early detection, and treatment of child wasting. As part of the agenda on the Global Action Plan on Child Wasting, UNICEF will lead efforts to support national governments to scale up proven solutions to prevent child wasting and provide treatment for all wasted children. To do so, we will support 15 countries across Africa, Asia and the Americas to scaling up a set of essential nutrition actions. These actions will reach over 90 million infants and children.

"Working with our partners, we have successfully mobilized over US$120 million dollars to support these actions. In the coming year, we commit to drive global efforts to mobilize an additional US$800 million for the scale-up. These essential actions will put the world on track to meet the Sustainable Development Goals targets on child wasting.

"With 10 years remaining in the pursuit of the Sustainable Development Goals, it is time for renewed action on ending child malnutrition in all its forms, everywhere. The COVID-19 pandemic should be a catalyst for progress, so that no child is left behind: this is not a time to lower our collective ambition.

"As Executive Director of UNICEF, I want to emphasize my commitment, and the commitment of UNICEF, to use all opportunities to work for better nutrition in all programming contexts. In a world living with COVID-19 and increasing inequities, UNICEF is committed to making this Year of Action a success to ensure the right to nutrition for every child – girls and boys – everywhere.

Thank you."

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For more information on the potential impacts of the COVID-19 crisis on maternal and child undernutrition in low and middle income countries, click here

The research finds that by 2022, COVID-19 could result in an additional 9.3 million wasted and 2.6 million stunted children, 168,000 additional child-deaths 2.1 million maternal anemia cases, 2.1 million children born to low body mass index (BMI) women and US$ 29.7 billion future productivity losses due to excess stunting and child mortality. 

UNICEF finds that an additional 6.7 million children under 5 could suffer from wasting this year due to COVID-19. For more information click here

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