Developing strategies to end hunger
 

119 posts categorized "Climate Change"

A Climate to End Hunger: What’s Cooking?

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Photo: Todd Post

In the developing world, women and girls are expected to collect firewood for cooking. The amount of time they spend on this chore varies depending on the local environment, but it is not uncommon to have to travel for hours to collect firewood several times a week.

A lot of trees are cut down as a result. The collection of firewood contributes to deforestation, and deforestation is a major contributor to global climate change.

We all want to reduce our carbon footprint. But what are the real-world choices of people in developing countries? It is one thing to gripe about people in rich countries who won’t part with their gas-guzzling automobiles, but quite another to expect people in poor countries to cook fewer meals in the interest of staving off climate change. I’m not suggesting that we should ignore the effects of their reliance on firewood. There are cost-effective ways to help solve the problem -- and nobody has to go hungry as a tradeoff.

In Malawi just last week, I saw how a simple clay stove—sold for less than a dollar—can significantly reduce the amount of firewood families use. And in turn, it frees up the time women and girls spend collecting it – time that they can now devote to more productive activities, such as work that produces an income or attending school.

A group of women I spoke with, participants in a program implemented by the National Association of Smallholder Farmers of Malawi (NASFAM), had been using open fires to cook their meals. They estimated that before they received clay stoves, they spent about 10 hours a week collecting firewood. With the new stoves, though, they’d reduced that time to less than an hour.

In addition to the stoves, NASFAM gave members of the group some seedlings to grow trees. If only the stoves had been provided, the women and girls would still have needed to walk for hours to get to the forest to collect their wood. They would not have needed to make as many trips as when they cooked over open fires, since the stoves need only a fraction of the firewood – but with trees right outside their homes, they can get firewood without going to the forest at all. Similarly, it would not make sense to plant trees without providing the stoves, since all the wood required to cook using open fires would have decimated the trees in no time.

But here’s the best part of the story: the community is now building stoves themselves and selling them in volume to a buyer, who in turn sells them in other villages for $1 each. They were able to do this because they pooled their resources to purchase the molds needed to make these clay stoves. They’ve also built a kiln. The enterprise is lifting families out of poverty, increasing their food intake, diversifying diets, and making it possible to keep children in school.

This story shows that it’s quite possible to improve people’s lives in significant ways without increasing the size of their carbon footprint. A little bit of technology goes a long way. Todd Post

A Climate to End Hunger: U.S. Farming in 2050

We’re hearing a lot about 2050 lately, especially in the anti-hunger community. It’s the year the human population is expected to reach 9 billion, and -- not coincidentally -- it’s the deadline to double global food production to meet growing demand. What will food production look like in 2050?

A new report from the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) asks: How can agriculture best adapt to climate change? Food Security in a World of Natural Resource Scarcity forecasts what the climate will be like in 2050, then tries to figure out which of several farming techniques-- e.g., drip irrigation, no-till agriculture, precision agriculture--would be most effective for growing maize (corn), wheat, and rice under those conditions. 

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report released last month indicates that worldwide, climate change is already occurring and people are already being forced to adapt to different conditions. Although climate change is a global problem, its effects on food and hunger are likely to be quite localized. 

The report’s North American chapter says climate change could cause “productivity gains in northern regions and where water is not projected to be a limiting factor,” but that heat, drought, and storms in other regions will cause a decrease in crop yields. The report projects that without significant adaptation, the United States will see modest declines in the amount of food grown by the middle of the century, with steeper declines by the year 2100. 

Producing less food can mean higher prices and more hungry people--especially with population growth -- so it’s important for farmers to adapt to climate change and keep crop yields up. The solution isn’t the same for every region or every crop, so the report breaks the world down into square “pixels,” 60 by 60 kilometers. IFPRI has prepared an Agritech Toolbox with country-level data for visualizing which techniques will work best for each crop.  

Map of projected 2050 maize yields in the Americas
From Figure 4.2 of IFPRI report

For example, IFPRI researchers found that for growing maize in the United States, the most successful overall intervention would be to switch to heat-tolerant plant varieties. But as illustrated in a graphic in the report, adopting heat-tolerant varieties of maize wouldn’t change yields much at all in the northern parts of the country. It might not be hot enough there to need new types of corn by 2050. The southernmost corn-growing areas of the United States are likely to have only a small increase in corn yields from using heat-tolerant varieties -- perhaps droughts and storms will kill plants that otherwise could have survived the heat, or maybe it will prove too hot for even the hardiest varieties to thrive. Most importantly, though, there is a large area in the middle of the eastern United States where adopting heat-resistant varieties of maize could increase yields by more than 25 percent.  

Adapting to climate change isn’t enough. We need to change our ways of doing things so as to cause less climate change. For example, we should enable American farmers to not only maintain or increase crop yields despite climate change, but also to reduce waste so that more of the crops in the fields actually reach people’s plates – feeding more people without producing more greenhouse gas. Reducing future climate change can often be done using strategies that also bring people out of poverty, as we discussed in our 2010 Hunger Report.

Even if we succeed in slowing climate change, some of its damage is no longer avoidable. With the planet already experiencing greater extremes of temperature and precipitation, agriculture no longer has a choice about whether to adapt. The IPCC and IFPRI reports show in concrete ways how significantly Earth will change over the next several decades. Ending hunger is possible even in a changing climate, but it will require greater effort than it would have in the past -- on the part of the United States and every other country. 

Stacy Cloyd

A Climate to End Hunger: Agriculture Is Part of the Problem and the Solution

Hunger Report Monday 2 Greenhouse Gas Emissions by Economic Sectors

Editor’s note: Welcome to Bread for the World Institute’s blog series on A Climate to End Hunger. The other day when I realized that Earth Day was approaching, I winced at my conflation of Earth Day with climate change. But it makes sense. Climate change is the biggest threat yet to Earth’s environment – and increasingly widespread hunger is one of its most tragic potential consequences. In this series, we reflect on how we can help prevent such a catastrophe. 

Today, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Working Group III published the third and final contribution, Mitigation of Climate Change, to the organization’s forthcoming Fifth Assessment Report. Working Group III, made up of hundreds of the world’s leading scientists, was tasked with surveying thousands of the latest peer-reviewed studies to gauge the current status of climate change, the hazards it poses to humanity, and, of course, what people can do to prevent and/or cope with those hazards. The Guardian’s Leo Hickman summed up the group’s findings best – and at Tweetable length:

Climate change is real. We are to blame. It will get worse if we fail to act. The solutions are available and affordable. But time is short.

The group’s findings support the warning – stronger than ever – of the threat posed by climate change not only to hungry and poor people, but to the entire global economy. Climate change is increasingly straining global food systems. The message to policymakers is that if all countries, rich and poor alike, do not act quickly and cooperatively, the hard-won global progress against hunger and extreme poverty of the past few decades could be rapidly undone.

More specifically, climate change threatens global food security by causing declining crop yields; disruptions in food access, utilization, and price stability; and significantly reduced access to water, food security, and agricultural incomes in rural communities.

As the report’s chart (above) shows, about a quarter of global greenhouse gas emissions are generated by the “Agriculture, Forestry, and Other Land Use” (AFOLU) sector — more than by the transport and building sectors combined. Sustainable agricultural practices will be crucial to reducing AFOLU emissions while still producing enough food for the growing population. Promising mitigation options include afforestation and sustainable forest management, improved cropland management, and restoration of organic soils.

At its core, responding effectively to climate change means building resilience in communities where people have always struggled to produce enough food. It demands strong and organized political leadership, infrastructure, and resources at all levels — local, regional, national, and global. Strengthening local capacity to create and implement informed, effective adaptation strategies is vital to building resilience.

Chapter 5 of the 2014 Hunger Report, Ending Hunger in America, examines how agriculture has been part of the climate change problem, and more importantly, how it must be part of the solution. Visit www.hungerreport.org to read more.   Derek Schwabe

Data to End Hunger: Specialized Food Aid Products

Traditionally, food aid from the United States meant bagged cereals and pulses (such as dried peas and lentils), flour, a blended corn-soy product designed to be mixed with water to make porridge or gruel, or a combination of these. Purchased by the U.S. Department of Agriculture in the American Midwest, it was sent by rail or barge to U.S. ports and then continued its long journey by ship. Finally, food aid arrived in the places where it was needed, where it was distributed through emergency and development programs administered by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID). For decades, this was the personification of the bounty of U.S. farmers and the generosity of the U.S. public toward hungry and vulnerable people.

Since the beginning of the main U.S. food aid program, Food for Peace, developments in food science and nutrition have taught us a lot about the effectiveness of food aid commodities. For example, while general distribution food aidBlog graph 040914such as that delivered in refugee camps in the Horn of Africa, provides the calories necessary to avert starvation, it is inadequate as a person’s sole source of sustenance for long periods of time. Studies by Tufts University and the Government Accountability Office found that there is a risk of malnutrition because the commodities are deficient in essential micronutrients (vitamins and minerals). This is a significant problem because in recent years, more than 96 percent of all food aid recipient countries have received food aid for four or more years.

Also thanks to advances in food and nutrition science, new food aid products have been developed and are increasingly being used in programs to treat both moderate and severe malnutrition. Food aid products began to be targeted to the specific groups of people for whom they would be most effective. For example, micronutrient-fortified formulations of Corn Soy Blend and Wheat Soy Blend were made (from a blend of partially cooked cornmeal, soy flour, iodized salt, and vegetable oil). Other formulations that have been tested contain soy- or milk-based (whey) proteins, which have been shown to help the body absorb nutrients. This is most critical to malnourished children younger than 2 -- those in the 1,000 Days window of opportunity.

Other new types of food aid belong to the category “lipid-based nutritional supplements” (LNS). One of the first therapeutic LNS foods is a peanut-based product with a name that’s now widely recognized – Plumpy’nut. This and related products marketed by the Nutriset company show tremendous success in helping children with Severe Acute Malnutrition.

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Specialized food products like these are used with mothers and children in the highlands of Guatemala

A study in Niger found that giving Plumpy’nut to children younger than 2 with Severe Acute Malnutrition reduced mortality by about 50 percent – a result heralded as a significant change in the way food aid is used.

Additional LNS products have been developed by U.S.-based companies.  Also, there have been pilot projects that base the therapeutic foods on locally-grown chickpeas, peanuts, cashews, sesame, corn, and soybeans. Using local crops will significantly reduce the cost, which can be a barrier to increasing the use of LNS products in donor-funded programs.

In addition to LNS-based foods, Ready-to-Use Supplementary Food (RUSF) and Ready-to-Use Therapeutic Food (RUTF) products, micronutrient-fortified/enriched milled flours and blends, and meal replacement emergency foods have all been developed and are now in use. Meal replacement products include dairy and legume protein pastes as well as grain-based protein bars. 

Increased use of specialized products is an integral part of the food aid reforms in the recently passed U.S. farm bill. It is noteworthy that the farm bill contains specific language instructing USAID to explore ways in which these products can be stockpiled in food aid pre-positioning sites around the world.  Pre-positioning can make them immediately available in emergencies where children are suffering from life-threatening malnutrition. Better targeting of specialized foods to the most vulnerable populations will save lives.

Other food aid reforms currently under way include increasing the percentage of local and regional purchase of food, and allowing additional flexibility to provide help in the form of food vouchers or cash where appropriate, as opposed to shipping bagged food aid products from the United States. These reforms will reduce program costs and ultimately feed millions more people with the same resources.

This is critical, because according to the Lancet medical journal, malnutrition is the underlying cause of nearly half of all child deaths, more than 3 million children per year. The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) reports that one in four children in the world is stunted (below the median height for age of a reference population), a condition related to chronic malnutrition with life-long social, health, education and economic consequences.

Research and data have enabled the development of specialized therapeutic food aid products.  Increasing the use of all forms and formulations of such products is our best weapon against acute malnutrition, particularly among severely malnourished children whose lives are at stake. This is one battle in the war against hunger that we can win.

Scott Bleggi

Data to End Hunger: Water in Nepal

Welcome to Bread for the World Institute's blog series on Data to End Hunger.  This week, we'll  offer different "takes" on this topic - in the United States and overseas, data collection concerns and data access concerns, personal stories and quantitative information.

But they all add up to our main point: Relevant, accurate information is essential to ending hunger.

Photo for water in Nepal

Rice cultivation in Asia, a common sight that obviously requires abundant water. Photo by Myra Valenzuela/Bread for the World.

In Nepal, where at least 75 percent of the population depends on agriculture and 86 percent of the land area is hilly or mountainous terrain, water is a critical variable. Simply put, whether farmers have access to the right amounts of water at the right times determines whether there will be enough food for everyone.

What Nepal doesn't know about its water supply, though, exacerbates the already formidable difficulties posed by the terrain -- in agriculture, industry, and power generation alike.  (Even the capital city of Kathmandu has several hours of power outage every day, referred to locally as load-shedding).

The Inter Press Service reports, "Nepal's hydrologists, water experts, meterorologists, and climate scientists all call for better management of water. But a vital element of water management -- quality scientific data -- is still missing."

"Most of the high altitude data we have on water and climate change is not our own, it is based on global circulation models... In our context, we don't have much to compare with," said Sanjay Dhungel at Nepal's Water and Energy Commission Secretariat.

 And, as Vladimir Smakhtin at the International Water Management Institute of CGIAR explains, "Simulations without data to verify against are meaningless."

Nepal is considered one of the world's most climate-vulnerable nations because of its elevation and its poor, natural resource-dependent population. And there is no shortage of anecdotal information about climate change -- including melting glaciers, poorer soil quality, new pests and crop diseases,  and increasingly unpredictable weather patterns with more frequent and more extreme floods and droughts -- and its impact on agriculture. 

More and more men are migrating to India to find work because of this "reduced cultivable acreage," said Krishna Raj Aryal from the NGO Support Activities for Poor Producers of Nepal.

But since there is so little hard data, there is even less information and guidance reaching farmers, particularly those in the increasingly common female-headed households, where literacy rates are much lower. 

Pilot and demonstration projects by international and local NGOs are already under way. For example, Practical Action runs an adaptation program in which farmers replace some of their rice crop with bananas, which are less vulnerable to extreme weather. Involving the national government is a necessary step in scaling up adaptation.

Newer techniques such as remote sensing -- which can measure evaporation and transporation rates, soil moisture, and other variables -- can supply a great deal of information about water, often without needing much input from on-the-ground research. Exploring this and/or other less costly and time-consuming methods of collecting data could help fill the data gap more quickly.

 Michele Learner

 

First Impressions in Rwanda

Rwandan women

Rwanda is the only country in the world with a female majority in parliament (photo credit: Women Hall).

Most of the world knows more about the Rwanda of twenty years ago than about the country today. The genocidal killing that lasted for three unbelievable months in 1994 should not be all this tiny nation is known for. Rwanda remains one of the poorest countries in the world. Given where the country was twenty years ago, the progress it has made is remarkable. Bread for the World Institute’s Todd Post and Faustine Wabwire have come to Rwanda to learn more about this.

Rwanda has the distinction of being the only country in the world with a female majority in parliament. While the president is a man—indeed a very strong man—the women of Rwanda are playing an uncommonly powerful role in the country’s development. Women were involved right from the start in the post-conflict reconciliation, and they continue to shape policy and drive progress against hunger and other hardships associated with poverty. The 2015 Hunger Report will be about women in development, and so Rwanda was an obvious choice to visit. We will report on some of our meetings while we’re here and share our reflections as we learn about the relationship between gender and development.

As we shake off our jet lag, we do what most people from abroad do while they’re in Kigali, the capital, i.e. we visit the genocide memorials. They are ubiquitous. There is one for a group of Belgian soldiers who gave their lives trying (unsuccessfully) to protect the Rwandan prime minister. Outside the building where the killing took place is the memorial. Bullet holes cover outside and inside of the building to show the extent of the carnage. There are no blood stains but the imagination can do the work.

There were no other visitors at this memorial when we arrived so we had time to talk with the man who is paid to welcome people to the site, what must be a lonely if not sorrowful job for any Rwandan. He was sixteen in April 1994, he told us. His parents and all his siblings were slaughtered in their home; he was elsewhere when the killers came. It’s hard to imagine what it must be like for him to be reminded of it all the day long and I ask him about this. It is steady work and better than being unemployed, he explains. He has a wife and two children, the oldest six years old and just starting school. The job pays a small wage and he doesn’t eat more than one meal per day consisting mostly of rice. We thanked him for sharing this with us, put a bill in his hand and wished him the best. This is the beginning of our visit to Rwanda. Todd Post

U.S. Drought Could Leave Hungry People High and Dry

Halved avocados on blue and white plateA severe drought throughout California and other western states has led to lower harvests and higher produce prices. The avocado crop was particularly badly affected — leading to recent news reports suggesting that Chipotle restaurants might stop serving guacamole. However, fans of fast-casual burritos need not panic: according to the company, the avocado issue was merely included on a statement of risks it is required to disclose to investors, and they have no plans to stop serving the popular topping.

But while Chipotle customers might eventually have to pay more for guacamole, low-income families who participate in the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly known as food stamps) are already making much bigger sacrifices. This past November, nearly all SNAP households suffered a cut in their benefits because parts of the 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) were allowed to expire. In addition, the farm bill passed last month eliminated “heat and eat,” a provision that allowed states to distribute utility assistance in a way that expanded SNAP eligibility. This decision will cut benefits a second time for many families in the 15 states and the District of Columbia that had chosen “heat and eat.”

Higher food prices and cuts to SNAP affect low-income families more than others. Skipping meals or switching from fruits and vegetables to cheaper foods can have major effects on health and productivity. It’s especially damaging to children, who are almost half of all SNAP participants. In turn, customers’ lessened purchasing power affects retailers and the people they employ.

But changes to federal nutrition and agriculture policies could help soften the blow.

If the benefits lost when the ARRA provisions and “heat and eat” ended were restored, for example, low-income people would have billions of dollars more to spend on food. A more ambitious policy change would be to begin basing benefit levels on the USDA’s “low-cost” food plan instead of the current “thrifty” food plan, which originally represented a minimum consumption level for emergencies. The federal government could also build on its current responses to the drought by funding research and implementation of climate resilience strategies so future harvests are less vulnerable to drought.

Increases in food prices affect everyone, not just Chipotle investors and guacamole fans. While successful harvests will likely always need cooperative weather, adopting intelligent and compassionate policies could prevent droughts, floods, and less extreme “weather events” from leading to hunger.

Stacy Cloyd

Women By the Numbers

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Todd Post for Bread for the World, 2011

Hilary Rodham Clinton may be remembered for many things she said while Secretary of State, but one of the most oft-quoted things she said during her tenure at State was when she spoke at an event in July 2012: Evidence and Impact: Closing the Gender Data Gap.  Clinton said, "Data not only measures progress, it inspires it."

She repeats this statement quite often, or at least some permutation. Thank heavens. Since it appears she may be running for president of the United States, we need leaders who recognize that data is more than about numbers and charts—it’s a public good,  no less a public good than the food system, clean air and water, or children. Yes, children are a public good - who else but them will produce the future leaders of our nations and whom all nations will eventually depend on to address the catastrophe of climate change. Today's leaders certainly have all the data they need to get started; what they lack is the courage and political will. Here's hoping our kids are more inspired than we adults have been.

You may have heard something about the fanfare around Big Data. A Data Revolution appears to be taking place. Something akin to data available to everyone, anywhere, any time, and about aloost anything – a click away, two at the most. The so-called data revolution is very much a gender equality issue, and here on International Women’s Day let’s try to understand why.

In the business I'm in, i.e. ending hunger, we frequently say that hunger is predominantly a woman’s issue. We think women experience hunger at a higher rate than men. I’d bet that is probably correct, but the fact is we really don’t know for sure because the way we collect data doesn’t allow us to arrive at a definitive conclusion.

“Are women and girls more likely than men and boys to be undernourished?” asks a 2011 report by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), the institution charged with collecting and publishing data about undernutrition, or what we more commonly call hunger. According to FAO, “A positive answer to this statement is not supported by available evidence.”

Here’s the problem: Poverty and hunger are normally measured in terms of income or consumption at the household level, not for individuals, so separate hunger and poverty rates for men and women cannot be calculated. Gender disaggregated data are needed to arrive at clear conclusions.

The Millennium Development Goals, which expire in 2015, are likely to be succeeded by another round of development goals. One of the most anticipated improvements to the MDGs will be more gender disaggregation in how progress on the new goals is measured. UN Women has a lot to say about this, so I would steer you there if you’re interested in knowing more about this.

Another example may help to clarify why this issue matters so much. According to UN Women, “the lack of data [on gender-based violence] saw one of the most serious human rights violations excluded from the [MDG] framework. It's critical that we use the post-2015 framework to push the data and evidence base forward, rather than allowing the data we have available to us frame the priorities we set ourselves.”

Today, everyone wants to pledge their allegiance to evidence-based policymaking. I attended an event earlier in the week here in Washington, DC commemorating the upcoming International Women’s Day. The event was hosted by one of the most prominent development organizations in the world, which also happens to specialize in women in development. The event included release of a new paper and as the president of the organization introduced it and the researcher who would present the paper, she made clear to emphasize that this organization, hers, was driven by evidence-based research - not ideology, not opinions, not anything I guess you could say that smacked of the subjective.

The room was packed with women, and as one might expect, the ratio of women to men was no less than nine to one. In the room were some of the most respected thinkers and leaders in the development sector’s work on gender inequality. I looked around the room and the thought crossed my mind that when these women (and the men also) decided to focus so much of their life’s work on overcoming gender inequalities, few of them I'll bet based that decision on a thorough analysis of the evidence base.

This so called data revolution, like any revolution, is the means to an end—what we know to be the right thing to do, the elimination of gender inequality and the championing of human rights for all. As for that, we don't need to consult the data. Todd Post

Pakistan Joins the Scaling Up Nutrition Movement

This blog was submitted by Pirbhu Satyani, who is an intern in Bread for the World Institute.   He has a Hubert H. Humphrey Fellowship through American University and comes from Tharparkar/Sindh, Pakistan.    

  Pirbhu pic

Pakistan, a middle-income country, has taken the significant step of becoming the 46th member country of the SUN (Scaling Up Nutrition) Movement. An important role of SUN member countries is to collaborate with each other in making the issue of nutrition a top priority. SUN helps member countries design nutrition-focused policies and use resources efficiently to achieve improved nutrition, especially among women and children.  

In my country, malnutrition is a serious issue with many causes, including ineffective government policies, a poor health infrastructure system, food insecurity, and widespread poverty. In terms of Millennium Development Goal 4 (MDG 4), Pakistan is still far behind in reducing its under-5 child mortality rate. Every year, 800,000 children die in Pakistan -- 35 percent due to malnutrition. The risk of death is nine times higher for a child suffering from malnutrition than for a child with a balanced diet. PS blog 1 Pakistan’s National Nutrition Survey in 2011 indicated that 58.1 percent of households were food insecure. The government and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) are working on small projects, but there is no comprehensive and focused long-term plan or strategy to address the situation, to scale up successful programs with a goal of reducing the child mortality rate. The provincial governments (there are four) have been trying to make changes in policies and practices to improve the health and nutrition system since the 2010 introduction of the 18th Amendment to Pakistan’s Constitution, which empowered provinces to take action.  

Malnutrition arises when people have little access to food and limited health services. In Pakistan, the majority of the population (around 63 percent) lives in rural areas, where health services are very limited. The main livelihood of most people is agriculture – even though it would seem that being a farmer and being malnourished contradict each other. In Pakistan it is lack of access to a diversified diet that causes malnutrition. PS blog2 An unprecedented natural disaster (flood) in 2010-2011 made poor communities even more vulnerable. An estimated 20 million people were displaced, millions of acres of land were damaged, and there was widespread damage to crops, mostly wheat and rice. Farmers were unable to feed their families and malnutrition increased rapidly.   

Malnutrition in Pakistan can only be addressed through collaborative efforts -- by engaging the international donor community and by initiating long–term, sustainable programs such as food security, women’s empowerment, agricultural safety nets, early childhood development programs, and quality health service at the grassroots level (meaning reaching to rural communities). Pakistan hopes that best practices and effective government policies around the world can be shared with and imitated in Pakistan as it seeks ways to scale up successful nutrition actions via the platform the SUN movement has provided.

The commitment of Pakistan’s government to join the SUN movement may open more opportunities for technical support and may mobilize resources by engaging international donors to invest more in improving policies and strategies in the health and agriculture sectors, and in building the capacity of human resources and systems. If that is achieved, effective implementation of services can be ensured at all levels to improve health and nutrition for all in my country.

Scott Bleggi

The State Of The World's Children

The United Nations Children’s Fund, known as UNICEF, released an important report that reminds us of progress being made and challenges still before us as we work to see every child grow to his or her full potential.

The State of the World’s Children 2014 in Numbers is appropriately subtitled “Every Child Counts,” and is an impressive accumulation of data, information and published tables updating this report that was first published 30 years ago. 

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There are 2.2 billion children in the world, and while much has changed in those three decades, the need for credible data about their situation is more important than ever. It is being used by governments, donors, program implementers and policy makers across the globe as the basis for making decisions about investments and taking actions that are directed to children, especially those who are most vulnerable.

By itself, data changes nothing. But when it is accurate, transparent and widely available it can help decision makers identify needs, support advocacy efforts and measure progress toward stated goals.

What this data enables is a visit to the lives of children in any country you choose, behind the numbers. In an easy-to-view manner, the report provides info graphics that reveal the circumstances under which a child is born, their lives growing up, and the quality of their lives as they enter adulthood.

For example:

  • About 90 million children have beaten the odds against them according to 1990 predictions, and have in fact reached their fifth birthday
  • Improvements in nutrition have led to a 37% drop in stunting since 1990
  • Primary school enrollment has increased from 53% in 1990 to 81% in 2011.

But many challenges remain. Eleven percent of girls are married before their 15th birthday. Fifteen percent of children are engaged in labor practices that compromise their rights to protection from economic exploitation and their right to learn and play. And, some 6.6 million children under age 5 died in 2012, mostly from preventable causes.

Whether you are a policy analyst, a data geek who loves infographics, interested in international development, or just someone who wishes to see all children grow to their full potential, I suggest a look through this very interesting report by UNICEF.

Scott Bleggi

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