Readout from a UN debate on how to end hunger

by Tom Marchione

By Tom Marchione

(May 15, 2007) The theme of “working together” dominated this year’s session of the Standing Committee on Nutrition, held in Rome in early March of 2007 at the headquarters of the Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO).

The session was jointly sponsored by FAO, UNICEF, and International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), and was attended by over 400 people representing national governments, UN agencies and international NGOs interested in international nutrition. The SCN meeting followed its usual format, consisting of caucus meetings of bilateral development Agencies, UN Agencies, and NGOs; technical working group meetings and task force reports for sharing new technical and program information; and new initiatives.

The first day of the four day session was a symposium on “Working together to achieve freedom from child hunger and undernutrition” opened by new UNICEF director and SCN chairperson, Anne Veneman. She observed that 8 years are left to reach the goal of halving the global hunger rate as laid down in Millennium goal number one.

Speakers from sponsoring UN Agencies pointed out that 80 percent of the world hunger program is rural and not related to the lack of food, but to political economic and social causes, while also advocating for more focus on “proven” interventions for reducing child hunger, such as the newly proposed UNICEF/WFP Ending Hunger and Undernutrition Initiative (ECHUI).

Alexander Miller, an Assistant Director General of FAO, urged UN agencies to work together through integrating programs, participating across agencies, joint monitoring, and allocating accountability for achieving the Millennium Development Goals related to undernutrition and hunger.

Paul Engberg-Pederson, Director General for the Norwegian Agency for Development Cooperation, strongly urged a return to a project focus tailored to the causes of countries’ hunger problems, ranging from food shortage, conflict, political issues to population growth, space, and national resource constraints. Bilateral donor agencies should target on service delivery, politicize the issue in policy dialogues, divide the labor involved, and contribute to capacity development in developing countries, he said.

Professor David Sanders of the University of the Western Cape in South Africa spoke for the NGOs. He attributed the causes of persistent hunger to current state of globalization and unfair trade, structural adjustment of the health sector, and debt. The developing countries of Africa since 1990 have paid back more in debt payments than they have received in new loans and they current owe $300 billion to their creditors. Sanders proposed that the way forward was to 1) challenge globalization; 2) advocate more investment in nutrition and capacity development in nutrition; 3) improve the quality of integrated health centers; 4) support a progressive civil society surrounding nutrition issues.

Considerable debate focused on on what form future action to reduce malnutrition should take. Should it focus more on political-economic structures, human rights and be moral in character, or should it more on technical interventions and micro-level projects such as the ECHUI package. WFP and UNICEF claim that for $73 per year a ECHUI package would make a significant dent in the world hunger problem. It would contain 1) health, nutrition, and hygiene education; 2) household food security interventions; 3) household water treatment; 4) micronutrient supplementation; 5) hand washing with soap; and 6) parasite control, However, objections were raised to this approach because it minimizes the structural injustices, human rights violations, and needs for local mobilization and advocacy that those objecting thought were required to reduce hunger. The initiative was also challenged to show that it was not a vehicle for food aid distribution under the guise of household food security. SCN has joined with WFP and UNICEF to reconcile these competing perspectives into the initiative as it moves to final approval and implementation.

More information on the UN Standing Committee on Nutrition can be found at

The views expressed here do not necessarily represent those of World Hunger Education Service or its board.

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  • For the past 40 years, since its founding in 1976, the mission of World Hunger Education Service is to undertake programs, including Hunger Notes, that
    • Educate the general public and target groups about the extent and causes of hunger and malnutrition in the United States and the world
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    • Facilitate communication and networking among those who are working for solutions
    • Promote individual and collective commitments to sustainable hunger solutions.