UNICEF Executive Director Catherine Russell's remarks at the launch of the 2022 Global Report on Food Crises

As prepared for delivery

04 May 2022
Pakistan. A child is checked for malnutrition.

NEW YORK, 4 May 2022 – "Thank you [moderator], and thank you [WFP Executive Director] David Beasley, [FAO Director General] Qu Dongyu, and [EU Commissioner] Jutta Urpilainen for leading this critical discussion.

"We are here to take stock of a somber reality. As we have heard already today, the world is once again on the verge of a global food crisis. 

"I would like to focus my remarks on the impact of this growing threat on children.

"Children’s survival depends on access to nutritious, affordable, consistently available food. Good nutrition is the bedrock of child survival and development. 

"By stark contrast, inadequate nutrition is a leading cause of child mortality. In fact, nearly half of all deaths in children under 5 are attributable to undernutrition. 

"But around the world, the cascading impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, conflicts, and climate crises are greatly increasing hunger and acute malnutrition in children. 

"As a result of the pandemic,100 million more children are living in poverty, and two thirds of households with children have lost income.  The number of children not receiving regular meals has grown.

"School closures have not only affected learning. They have also impacted children and families who depend on school nutrition programmes. 

"Rising food prices have made a bad situation worse.  

"We now estimate that by the end of 2021, 50 million children were suffering from wasting, the most life-threatening form of malnutrition.  We expect that this number is now higher.

"In my first months as UNICEF Executive Director, I’ve already seen first-hand the very real and devastating human consequences of food and nutrition crises.

"I was recently in Goma, Ethiopia, in the Horn of Africa where the worst climate-induced emergency in 40 years is threatening the lives of 10 million children – including 1.7 million children who require urgent treatment for severe acute malnutrition.

"I also visited a health center in rural Afghanistan, where a 25-year-old mother of five told me that her family subsists on a diet of bread and water. I saw children on the brink of starvation and death in several hospitals and community health centers, their parents having exhausted all their coping mechanisms. 

"The same lethal combination of persistent conflict, a collapsing economy, rising food prices, and outbreaks of preventable diseases are taking their toll in Yemen, where at least 2.2 million children under five are acutely malnourished.

"The rapid reversal of our progress is frustrating – and tragic. But we should not lose sight of the fact that between 2000 and 2019, often in the face of serious challenges, global effort reduced the number of undernourished children in the world by more than thirty per cent. 

"This report shows clearly -- and urgently -- that we need to reignite that global effort.   

"UNICEF is calling for five key actions.

"First, protect access to nutritious, safe, affordable, and sustainable diets. Food markets should be designated as essential services to keep the functioning and safe for workers and consumers in a crisis. We should discourage trade bans, and do more to protect food producers, processors, and retailers.

"Second, secure investments to improve nutrition across the life of a child – beginning with maternal and child nutrition through pregnancy, and through early childhood and the school years. 

"That includes providing caregivers and communities with accurate information on infant feeding. We need to continue protecting breastfeeding and preventing the inappropriate marketing of infant formula. And as schools reopen, we need to expand school-based nutrition programmes for vulnerable children. 

"Third, scale-up systems and services for the early detection and treatment of child wasting – the most life-threatening form of malnutrition. 

"At the same time, we should be expanding services for the prevention of malnutrition in children and women. Proven interventions like vitamin A supplementation, deworming, food supplements, and nutritional support for pregnant women and breastfeeding mothers are among the most cost-effective ways to save lives and safeguard development.

"Fourth, expand social protection systems to help the most vulnerable families.  Providing direct support like cash transfers can help families make ends meet during crises. They also help build resilience for the future. In turn, social protection programmes can help families avoid negative coping strategies, such as marrying off girls or putting young children into work.  

"Fifth, protect investments in social services. The economic impact of the pandemic continues to constrain and contract budgets, but cuts in nutrition and food security should be considered last. 

"That said, given these constraints, we know we will have to work harder to make precious resources go farther. 

"That means enhancing the efficiency, equity, and transparency of current allocations. We also need to mobilize additional financing, including from public and private sources. 

"Sixth, to protect children from malnutrition, protect them from the impacts of climate change. Children should be at the center of climate adaptation and mitigation plans – and financing for such inclusive interventions should be available to all countries.

"Finally, build back better. We need to do more than respond at the height of a food crisis. We need to invest in improving maternal and child nutrition crisis before, during and after acute crises.

"Every child, everywhere, has the right to survive and to thrive. Well-nourished children are better able to grow, learn, and participate in their communities, their economies, and their societies. They are also more resilient in the face of crisis.

"It should not take a food crisis to mobilize our energies and resources to support these children. We need to recommit ourselves to picking up the pace of progress – and work together to reach every last child. 

"Thank you."

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