State of the Planet

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Getting Back on Track: Ending Global Hunger and Undernutrition

By Jessica Fanzo and Paul Pronyk

dertu_jul08-354One of the targets of the first Millennium Development Goal (MDG) is to reduce the proportion of people who suffer from hunger by half between 1990 and 2015, with hunger measured as the proportion of the population who are undernourished and the prevalence of children under five who are underweight. Many countries remain far from reaching this target, and much of the progress made has been eroded by the recent global food price and economic crises. As we enter the final five years to achieve the MDGs, we look upon one of the greatest challenges of our time with one billion people hungry, 129 million and 195 million children underweight and stunted respectively and more than 2 billion people deficient in micronutrients. Of the 117 countries analyzed by UNICEF, 63 are on track to meet the MDG1 target based on the proportion of children underweight (see Figure below). Three years ago, only 46 were on track, which holds some promise of improvements for certain countries. Of the 20 countries classified as not making any progress at all towards the MDG1, most are in Africa.


Source: UNICEF 2009

Evidence also suggests that increasing economic growth alone, while necessary and important, is unlikely to be sufficient to address hunger and undernutrition. Food and nutrition security is complex, and requires efforts across a spectrum that includes enhancing food production while simultaneously increasing access and utilization with substantive political commitment to address the most vulnerable populations with an equitable, basic human rights lens approach.

Many governments under invest in programs and efforts to reduce hunger and undernutrition, and fail to provide the minimal and essential domestic public goods and investments in agriculture and health needed for sustained growth. Countries must develop contextually-relevant priorities that integrate technical prevention and treatment-oriented interventions with wider efforts to address to enhance agricultural productivity, food security and diet diversity. Within many countries, coverage gaps will remain among vulnerable groups, and securing safety-nets through the use of food aid, conditional cash transfers or food-for-work programs will be inevitable. Poverty and hunger hotspots within countries should be a top priority, as should pregnant women, mothers and children under five years of age – with a special emphasis on under twos.

Addressing hunger and undernutrition are inextricably linked to wider progress towards other MDG targets. Durable gains will hinge on concurrent steps to reduce poverty, improve access to education, empower women and girls, and facilitate access to basic infrastructure including safe water and sanitation, energy, transport, and communication. Working on multiple fronts simultaneously has the potential to leverage synergies and catalyze gains that extend beyond those achieved through sector specific programs working in isolation. While multi-sectoral approaches may seem difficult and unwieldy, it is time for the global community to take on the challenge as we move forward towards 2015.

The strongest lesson emerging from both community-based and national efforts is that making rapid gains in reducing hunger and undernutrition is possible. Through energetic and engaged national leadership and with the support of robust international partnerships, rapid progress in reducing levels of hunger and undernutrition by 50% by 2015 is attainable. Accelerating progress towards these targets is less about the development of novel innovations and new technologies and more about putting what is already known into practice. Success will hinge on linking clear policies with effective delivery systems for an evidence-based and contextually relevant package of interventions that can rapidly be taken to scale. Many programs on the ground have found innovative ways to overcome historical barriers to implementation – from household-level delivery systems, to subsidies for small holder farmers, to linking efforts to reduce hunger with wider efforts to empower women or create work and business opportunities. Persistent hunger and undernutrition remain an inexcusable unfinished agenda and successfully closing the few remaining gaps is a pre-condition for wider global progress towards achieving the MDGs.

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Jessica Fanzo is the Nutrition Coordinator for the Millennium Village Project.

Paul Pronyk is the Director for Monitoring and Evaluation at CGHED.

The Center for Global Health and Economic Development (CGHED) mobilizes health research and programs that enable low-resource countries to develop quality health systems for the poor, promote sustainable economic development and achieve the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) – global targets for reducing extreme poverty and hunger and improving education, health, gender equality and environmental sustainability.  For more information about CGHED’s work, please visit  our website .

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14 years ago

We must save the earth, may be, be a vegetarian can help us to save the earth.