The world is getting hungrier: what can we do?

The numbers of malnourished children are rising and the situation is becoming increasingly urgent. Justin Forsyth, chief executive of Save the Children, looks at how David Cameron's hunger summit can help.

A family in Niger

How will the hunger summit help families in Niger?

Who are the key players?

It is a lack of political will, not food, which means almost one million people go to bed hungry every night. To win the race against hunger we need to secure commitments from the highest levels of government, including from those countries who carry the highest burden of hunger and malnutrition (e.g. India, Pakistan, Nigeria), donor countries (e.g. the G8) and the UN agencies that respond to hunger crises and provide development support.

The private sector also has a critical role to play in developing and supporting new solutions to child malnutrition.
Brazil has successfully reduced hunger and malnutrition in recent years. It will be important that lessons from their experience are learned. And as the next Olympic hosts, Brazil has an important role to play in ensuring this legacy continues to the next games.

What are the big points of debate?

There has been a large rise in the numbers of acutely malnourished children which threatens the impressive progress we've made over the last decade in reducing child mortality. Our global Child Development Report shows that hunger has become the most urgent threat to children worldwide and risks dragging back progress in saving and improving their lives. The latest available data says there are 58.7 million acutely malnourished children in the world. In 2000 there were 57.1 million children. There has been a 1% rise, increasing by 1.5 million.

As such, hunger has become the Achilles heel and unless we tackle it now, it threatens to undermine the overall and significant progress made in cutting child deaths.

This significant decline in progress on nutrition is in stark contrast to other significant achievements, for example;

  • Conditions for children have improved in 90 per cent of countries since the second half of the 1990s
  • A child is a third more likely to go to school than the mid 90s
  • A child is a third less likely to die before their fifth birthday now than during the mid 90s

Why is this happening now/what has changed?

Family in Mali

The issue of hunger and malnutrition is not new, but it is becoming increasingly urgent. The rise in levels of malnourished children come amid a back drop of rising food and fuel prices, which is making it much harder for families to afford to feed their children properly. In 2008 and in 2011 food prices hit a global peak, almost doubling in some areas. In countries like Somalia, Kenya and Niger cycling drought and climate change plays a role also.

As drought spans the African continent, almost 20 million people are facing a food crisis and one million children are at risk of sever acute malnutrition. But even in non-crisis years, millions of children across the world suffer the permanent effects of malnutrition because their parents can't access the food they need to help them live healthy and productive lives.

At a time when Britain is in the global spotlight, we have the opportunity not only to showcase our country's great sporting achievements, but to create an Olympic legacy that will galvanise a global commitment to seeing the end of hunger. Ensuring children can grow up to fulfil their potential, with lives free from hunger, is the best legacy the London Olympics could leave.

How does the UK rate on this issue?

The leadership that the UK has shown in hosting this crucial hunger summit during the Olympics puts it in a strong position to encourage the world and act. Using it's G8 presidency in 2013, we hope this summit will see the UK mark the beginning of the end of hunger. We want to see the Prime Minister use this moment to galvanise political commitment and signal that he will prioritise hunger through his G8 presidency next year.

Last year Britain showed powerful leadership on helping the world's poorest children, spurring global action and funds to secure vaccinations for millions of children, potentially saving four million lives. Save the Children is today asking David Cameron to do the same to stop children dying because of malnutrition

What would be the best outcome from the summit?

This Sunday, we want to see the biggest ever global push to combat hunger and malnutrition kick-started and the baton carried into 2013 when the UK again become hosts, this time to the crucial G8 summit. This global push must combine political action to address immediate and underlying causes of the hunger and malnutrition crises with more funds. The hunger summit and next year's G8 offer a unique opportunity to agree a target to reduce malnutrition and put a plan in place to deliver on it.

We want David Cameron to:

  • Use the UK's G8 presidency to keep hunger on the top of their agenda throughout 2013
  • Tackle immediate hunger needs across Africa where 28 million people are suffering
  • Set national and international targets to dramatically bring down the number of chronically malnourished children helping to galvanise political action against hunger.
  • Fix a broken humanitarian system where slow release of funds wastes money and costs lives

Justin Forsyth is chief executive of Save the Children. You can find him on Twitter @justinforsyth