When world leaders gathered in Manhattan last month for the United Nations General Assembly they had many sobering issues to discuss: the ongoing pandemic; the war in Ukraine and its impact on global fuel and food supplies; expanding geopolitical divides; and the accelerating pace of climate change, which disproportionately affects those who did the least to cause it. As U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres put it, “Trust is crumbling, inequalities are exploding, our planet is burning.”
The litany of pressing global problems also includes world hunger. After steadily declining for a decade, hunger is on the rise and now affects 10 percent of the global population—a tragedy and a travesty in a world with an abundance of nutritious food. Indeed, given the tremendous advances and innovation in other aspects of society, it’s hard to reconcile this reversal in progress on hunger—one of the most fundamental of human needs— and almost inconceivable that more than 800 million people go to sleep hungry each night. Malnutrition drives 45 percent of deaths of children under the age of five, and leaves one in four children physically and cognitively stunted; severe malnutrition, which is also known as wasting because it causes muscle and fat to literally waste away, increases the risk of death among children under the age of five by 11 times, compared to well-nourished children. Skyrocketing food prices have exacerbated the problem with impacts to many aspects of the global food system, including the ability to deliver food relief.
This is why at the recent United Nations General Assembly side event, The Child Malnutrition Crisis: Pledging to Save Lives, King Philanthropies joined other funders and government agencies to make an additional financial commitment to address the scourge of severe wasting and malnutrition. This is above and beyond the $100M that we committed to combat hunger and malnutrition last December at an event that was part of the Nutrition for Growth summit in Tokyo.
At King Philanthropies, we deploy funds to catalyze solutions at the intersection of climate change and extreme poverty, which includes those people affected most intensely by malnutrition. As Secretary-General Guterres said earlier this summer, the world faces the risk of multiple famines this year, and next year could be even worse. Right now, one of the most at risk places is the Horn of Africa, which is experiencing prolonged and devastating drought and a soon-to-be fifth consecutive failed rainy season. In the 15 hardest hit countries, a child is being pushed into severe malnutrition every minute and experts fear that Ethiopia, Kenya, and Somalia are “on the brink of an unprecedented humanitarian catastrophe.”
The good news in the midst of all this bad news is that there are ways to address this crisis and, increasingly, there seems to be the will to do so. Severe malnutrition is treatable with proven solutions. Ready-to-use therapeutic food (RUTF), for example, a peanut-based paste fortified with vitamins and minerals and distributed in easy-to-use sachets, has seen considerable success—although USAID estimates that only about 20-25 percent of children in need of such wasting treatments are currently receiving it. We are proud of our many current King Philanthropies portfolio organizations who are actively addressing the problem. New scientific breakthroughs by Ryp Labs and mori are extending the shelf life of perishable foods, while Particles for Humanity is pioneering a new formulation that stabilizes Vitamin A for fortifying foods. Innovations on the ground by Cold Hubs are expanding access to solar-powered cold storage facilities in Nigeria, and in Madagascar, Valala Farms is using cricket powder to create protein-and nutrient-rich porridges. And to ensure sustainable local food production in the midst of continued climate change, One Acre Fund is working with small farmers to restore their soils and Blue Ventures with small fishers to restore marine fisheries. These impressive organizations and pathbreaking solutions bring us much hope and optimism for the future.
They also increase our resolve because, while there is an urgent need to stem the current crisis, it is also critical that we plan for the future and ensure we are never in this position again. It was gratifying to see many donors stand together and collectively commit more than half a billion dollars to help tackle severe malnutrition in children, but much work remains to be done if we are to prevent hunger and malnutrition in the future. As Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation CEO Mark Suzman said, “I’m encouraged by the unified response to today’s crisis, but it’s not enough for us to respond to this disaster. We must also do everything in our power to prevent the next one.”
We encourage other donors to join us by stepping forward and doing more to support this cause. Despite the shocking scale and severity of the problem, less than one percent of donor funding goes towards addressing malnutrition. Furthermore, the impacts of climate change will have damaging effects on food security and malnutrition for many years to come. As private foundations, we can play an essential role in funding research and development for new innovations, building the evidence base, and catalyzing new solutions. As individuals, we can contribute what we can to organizations working on the front lines, and we can spread knowledge and conduct advocacy work. Every contribution towards ending malnutrition, and thereby saving lives, is significant. Together, we can ensure a healthier future for millions of children. Let’s make sure we never again reverse progress on hunger and malnutrition—one of the defining challenges of our time. To quote USAID Administrator Samantha Power, “No child should die from malnutrition when we have the tools to stop it. It’s that simple.”
Banner image courtesy of UNICEF / Ralaivita