Sunday, 9 December 2012

MALNUTRITION: Fighting malnutrition is a moral and political duty

DECEMBER 9, 2012Gianni PittellaGianni Pittella MEP, first vice president of the European Parliament

United Nations-African Union Mission in Darfur (UNAMID) staff member of the Teaching Hospital in El-Geneina in West Darfur preparing a vaccine against yellow fever.| AFP PHOTO/UNAMID/ALBERT GONZALEZ FARRAN
This week I had the pleasure to open the conference 'Combating Malnutrition: An All-Stakeholders Breakthrough Summit' organised in Brussels by the Public Advice International Foundation in cooperation with the Cyprus EU Presidency
The problem of malnutrition prevents men, women and children from meeting their most basic needs. According to the latest statistics provided by the UN's Food and Agriculture Organisation last October, there are 870 million people in the world who are chronically undernourished. This is by all accounts unacceptable.
As a politician, what makes the prevalence of under-nutrition all the more appalling is that this problem has, at its core, a deeply political cause. No-one has put this across more forcefully than the Nobel Economics Price winner Amartya Sen. On his now classic study 'Poverty and Famines' (1981), he noted that famines are most often not a direct consequence of there being not enough food for everyone, but rather of some people not being able to access food because of their lack of entitlements to this food. Ultimately, any political system that allows this lack of entitlements to continue must bear some responsibility. 
In an increasingly globalised world, this is a global entitlement problem: whereas markets, including those for basic foodstuffs, have gone global, the right to sufficient food, and its enforcement, has not done so. This lack of enforcement is often linked to other problems such as violent conflict or state fragility. The recent crises in Somalia - where famine was declared in 2011 - and in the Sahel, which this year has  faced an important food crisis, exemplify this. 
Before Christmas break I will be in Khartoum, Sudan, to meet representatives of the Sudanese Parliament in order to stress my support and my will to relaunch  a concrete debate on this important issue, combating malnutrition, at European level. Sudan, Somalia or the Sahel area, are just some example of countries where people seem "abandoned" to their destiny. We have to thank the several NGOs, as Emergency founded by Gino Strada, which are operating in this difficult situations with few financial resources but with a very big and positive impact on the population. 
The international community is responding to the emergencies but it's not enough. The European Union have provided over €1 billion in humanitarian aid since 2011. Nonetheless, international partners should remain engaged with these situations and seek to address the broader elements that allowed these crises to appear in the first place. 
The central case for combating malnutrition and its consequences is a political and moral one. But there is also an important economic argument to be made. Now that everyone is concerned with austerity and 'doing more with less', it is difficult to think of a more cost-effective intervention than combating malnutrition. Some studies have shown that, in general, aid creates an economic return to recipient countries and to donors. When aid is furthermore directed towards combating malnutrition among children it can unlock a huge potential. 
Ending hunger and malnutrition is a moral and political imperative. And one that will, furthermore, become more pressing in coming years due to increasing food prices, population pressures and the impact of climate change on food production. 
The 2008-2009 food crisis was a strong wake up call for political leaders of the need to take this matter seriously. The current increase in the price of some foodstuffs - notably wheat - serves as a reminder that this remains a pressing matter. I'm convinced  the EU must remain engaged and become a global leader in combating malnutrition through development aid and a wider range of policies. 
This task cannot be undertaken by a single actor. Much can be achieved through the collaboration of all of us working with a single objective but bringing onboard different assets, skills and perspectives.  European Union should be the guide to this approach. 

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