World Food Day: Combating Acute Childhood Undernutrition

World Food Day is commemorated on October 16, with the aim of raising global awareness about hunger and encouraging concrete actions for the future of food, children, adults and the planet

World Food Day is commemorated on October 16, with the aim of raising global awareness about hunger and encouraging concrete actions for the future of food, children, adults and the planet.


Combating acute child malnutrition


Armed conflict, climatic shocks, the latent effects of COVID-19 and the rising cost of living are leading to an increase in the number of cases of acute malnutrition among children, while essential services in health, nutrition and other vital areas are becoming less accessible.


Today, more than 30 million children in the 15 countries most affected by the current food crisis are wasted – that is, acutely malnourished – and 8 million are severely wasted, the most lethal form of malnutrition. This is a serious threat to children’s lives and to their long-term health and development. Its effects reach families, communities and countries.


Wasting is a form of malnutrition caused by a decrease in food intake or illness that results in sudden weight loss or edema. Children with acute malnutrition are underweight for their height. They may also have nutritional edema and other associated clinical pathological signs.


Children with acute malnutrition have weakened immune systems and are more likely to die from common childhood illnesses. Those who survive may suffer lifelong growth and developmental problems and are at risk of facing a future of disease, poor school performance and poverty with ripple effects over generations.


Childhood wasting, defined as low weight for height, is the most dangerous form of malnutrition. Severe wasting is its most deadly form, with children suffering from it up to 12 times more likely to die than well-nourished children.


The Global Plan of Action against Child Wasting


In response to this critical situation, five UN agencies, including the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and the World Health Organization (WHO), have called on governments and world leaders to accelerate progress on the Global Plan of Action against Child Wasting.


The plan aims to prevent, detect and treat acute malnutrition in children in the most affected countries, which are Afghanistan, Burkina Faso, Chad, Democratic Republic of Congo, Ethiopia, Haiti, Kenya, Madagascar, Mali, Niger, Nigeria, Somalia, South Sudan and Yemen.


The Global Plan of Action addresses the need for a multi-sectoral approach and highlights priority actions on maternal and child nutrition through food, health, water and sanitation and social protection systems. Scaling up these actions will be critical both to prevent and treat acute malnutrition in children and to avert the tragic loss of human lives.


Water is life, water is food


This year’s World Food Day theme is “Water is life, water is food”. Water is essential for life on Earth. It makes up more than 50% of our bodies and covers about 71% of the planet’s surface. Only 2.5% of the water is fresh, suitable for drinking, agriculture and most industrial uses. Water is a driving force for people, economies and nature, and forms the basis of our food supply. In fact, agriculture accounts for 72% of global freshwater withdrawals, but like all natural resources, freshwater is not infinite.


Rapid population growth, urbanization, economic development and climate change are putting the planet’s water resources under increasing stress. At the same time, freshwater resources per person have declined by 20% in recent decades. Water availability and quality are deteriorating rapidly due to decades of poor use and management, overexploitation of groundwater, pollution and climate change. We risk overtaxing this precious resource to a point of no return.


Some 600 million people who depend at least partially on aquatic food systems for their livelihoods are suffering from the effects of pollution, ecosystem degradation, unsustainable practices and climate change.


It is time to start managing water wisely. We need to produce more food and other essential agricultural products with less water, while ensuring that water is distributed equitably, that our aquatic food systems are preserved, and that no one is left behind. Governments must design science- and evidence-based policies that leverage data, innovation and cross-sectoral coordination to better plan and manage water.


By: Juan Carlos Ugarelli

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