|Malnutrition is largely a silent and invisible
emergency, exacting a terrible toll on children and their families. The
result of multiple causes, including a lack of food, common and
preventable infections, inadequate care and unsafe water, it plays a
role in more than half of the nearly 12 million deaths each year of
children under five in developing countries, a proportion unmatched
since the Black Death ravaged Europe in the 14th century. Malnutrition
blunts intellects and saps the productivity and potential of entire
societies. Poverty, one of the causes of malnutrition, is also a
consequence, a tragic bequest by malnourished parents to the next
The State of the World's Children 1998 report details the scale of the loss and the steps being taken to stem it. Sentinels of progress are lighting the way: Nearly 60 per cent of the world's salt is now iodized, and millions of children every year are spared mental retardation as a result. Vitamin A supplementation is helping bolster disease resistance in children and may soon become an important measure in helping reduce maternal deaths around the world. Communities are working together to identify their problems, decide on their options and take action, with women emerging to play leadership roles that spark numerous other changes in people's lives.
Children have the right, recognized in international law, to good nutrition. The world has the obligation to protect that right, building on both the great experience gained and the scientific knowledge achieved. Action is both possible and imperative.