UNICEF Executive Director Catherine Russell's remarks at the 2023 Global Report on Food Crises launch event
As prepared for delivery
"Excellencies, colleagues … it is good to be with you today for this critically important discussion. UNICEF looks forward to expanding our work with the Global Network against Food Crises, especially given the disproportionate impact food and nutrition insecurity have on children and women.
"The findings presented in this year’s Global Report paint a deeply worrying picture. In communities around the world, conflict, climate change and rising food prices are causing dangerous spikes in food and nutrition insecurity.
"I have seen the devastating impact of malnutrition firsthand. Just yesterday, I visited Garissa here in Kenya where families have been devastated by drought and increasing food costs. There I met two little boys, Khalid and Khalil who were so malnourished that they needed urgent treatment from UNICEF and our partners. Thankfully, they are on the road to recovery, but so many others still need lifesaving support.
"Today, millions of children and women are bearing the brunt of the worsening crisis. Worldwide, 149 million children under five are experiencing stunted growth and 35 million are suffering from wasting … this includes 9 million children who are severely wasted and at imminent risk of death.
"In the 15 most affected countries, the number of pregnant and breastfeeding mothers suffering from acute malnutrition has soared from 5.5 million to 6.9 million – or 25 per cent – since 2020. And more than 1 billion adolescent girls and women worldwide are suffering from undernutrition.
"Without urgent action, this crisis could well become a catastrophe.
"But the situation is not hopeless. Over the last two decades, there has been a dramatic reduction in child malnutrition across countries and regions. This includes a decrease in the number of stunted children by 55 million, or over one-third since 2020.
"Last year, UNICEF launched a programmatic response to protect these gains, while also expanding our operations to protect children in the 15 hardest-hit countries. Our goal is to ensure that all children and women have access to nutritious, safe and affordable diets … essential nutrition services … and positive feeding and care practices that support good nutrition.
"In 2022, UNICEF and our partners including key partners and friends on this call today reached 182 million children under five with services for the early detection and treatment of child wasting. This includes treating 7.3 million children for the most severe forms of child wasting – more than ever before.
"These results show that we can tackle global food and nutrition insecurity through collective action and sufficient resources.
"As we continue to expand our response in the months ahead, our vision and work will remain guided by three key principles …
"One is that prevention must come first. This means addressing the underlying causes of the crisis by ensuring that children have access to nutritious and safe foods. And it means strengthening the supportive systems that children rely on … like health, water and sanitation, education, and social protection. We must also empower community-based workers to provide effective care at the local level.
"Second, global efforts to end the crisis will fall short unless we improve the nutrition of mothers and adolescent girls.
"As part of this effort, we must put financial resources in the hands of women so that they can obtain the nutritious foods and essential nutrition services that they need for themselves and for their children.
"And finally, when prevention fails, treatment is a must. Severely malnourished children cannot be saved by eating regular foods – they need to be treated with therapeutic foods, including access to Ready to Use Therapeutic Food or what we call RUTF.
"As this year’s report shows, the stakes of the global food and nutrition crisis get higher by the day. But it also shows us where needs are most acute and what actions are required to put the crisis firmly in the past. Millions of lives are hanging in the balance, so let’s get the job done … there really is no time to waste.
"Thank you so much."