UNICEF Executive Director Henrietta Fore's remarks at the Launch of the Global Report on Food Crises 2021
As prepared for delivery
NEW YORK, 5 May 2021 – "Distinguished guests, colleagues, ladies and gentlemen.
"On behalf of UNICEF, I extend thanks to the Global Network on Food Crisis for bringing us together to launch the report and to have this important conversation.
"As the world grapples with the COVID-19 pandemic, we need to keep the spotlight on the scale and magnitude of the many crises that continue to affect children, women, their families and communities. And we need to continue focusing our attention to responding where the need is the greatest.
"The situation outlined in this year’s report is deeply worrying. COVID-19 has made an already fragile nutrition situation even worse.
"Before the pandemic, one in three children were already not growing adequately because of malnutrition. Despite progress over the years, 149 million children are still affected by stunting … 45 million children are suffering from wasting … and at least 340 million have vitamin and mineral deficiencies.
"For the children living in the 55 countries experiencing a food crisis, the situation is especially grave. More than one in three of all wasted children – 16 million – and just under one half of all stunted children – 75 million children – live in these countries. The pandemic has deepened this crisis, disrupting diets, services and practices that protect children and their families from under-nutrition.
"As the report highlights, we are now seeing the threat of famine looming large across more countries than ever before.
"The quantity and quality of the food accessible to children and their families is a key factor behind the growing risk of famine – but it is not the only one.
"Disease is also on the rise in many of these contexts. And conflict and economic shocks are weakening national food, health and safety nets. As a result, we’re seeing increased malnutrition and death in countries across the Horn of Africa, the Sahel, many parts of the Middle East, and indeed around the world.
"To address this complex set of challenges, we must start by preventing food and nutrition crises. That’s why, together with many of you here today, we’ve invested heavily in systems that anticipate crisis, and where they will strike.
"But these systems are only as good as the rapid action and funding behind them. Early warning means nothing without early action.
"Our early action must be driven by three important principles.
"Prevention comes first.
"Early action means ensuring access to food. But we also need to move beyond food assistance. We need to focus on the short and mid-term needs of the most vulnerable children.
"From ramping up nutrition systems to ensure access that young vulnerable children have access to specialized age-appropriate foods. To strengthening health, water, hygiene and sanitation responses to protect children against infection and disease. To ensuring that vulnerable children and families benefit from shock-responsive safety net programmes. We need all of these preventative actions.
"And when prevention fails, we must be ready to ensure that children who are severely malnourished have access to ready-to-use therapeutic foods and treatment, to avert preventable child deaths.
"Second – we need to strengthen systems across the board.
"We need to support all of the systems that children need – including basic nutrition, health, water, and protection services.
"We also need to invest in systems that are resilient to future crises and shocks – including climate change. Without these investments, we will not break away from the crises we see year after year.
"And third – we need to focus on the most vulnerable.
"In virtually every single one of the crises described in this year’s report, the most vulnerable are young children and marginalized, hard-to-reach populations.
"These children and their communities must be our priority. We need to invest in data and information systems that help us identify hot spots of vulnerability and risk at the sub-national levels in key countries. This information is critical in targeting resources efficiently to reach children, their families and their communities who are most in need.
"Distinguished guests, colleagues – that is my plea to you all today.
"This report is a call to action.
"We need to more of what we do – and better.
"We need to view crises as more than a trigger to respond – but a reminder of what we need to do to prevent these crises from happening in the first place.
"We need to acknowledge the importance of food assistance, but also remember the need to think bigger, and long-term.
"And we need to acknowledge the millions of people in need – and those who are more vulnerable than others. We cannot leave these children and women behind.
"UNICEF looks forward to working with you all to reach this goal. Thank you."