Beyond G7 Commitments: Ending Hunger Requires Immediate Global Action

By Eric Mitchell

A mobile clinic tests for malnutrition in Yemen.

Last week, leaders from the G7 countries came together in the seaside village of Carbis Bay, UK to commit to, among other things, increasing focus on nutrition. Specifically, the Biden Administration endorsed the G7 Famine Prevention and Humanitarian Crises Compact, reaffirming U.S. commitment to provide $7 billion in humanitarian assistance, promote humanitarian access and civilian protection — including women and girls — through diplomatic action, and strengthen anticipatory and early action in conjunction with the UN and World Bank Group.

The White House also highlighted the global rise in poverty, hunger, and malnutrition, exacerbated by Covid-19 and other crises, and urged further action to reverse these trends and strengthen global food systems.

The Alliance to End Hunger and others in the food security and nutrition community are thrilled to see this commitment, but further efforts and commitments must be made as we look forward to the UN Food Systems Summit, COP 26, and the Nutrition for Growth Summit. Consistent with the sentiments expressed in the G7 Summit Communiqué, the U.S. must be an active leader in advancing food security and nutrition priorities as we work to “build back better” around the globe.

Malnutrition remains a major driver of poverty and inequity worldwide, with the most devastating impacts on young children. Particularly within the anti-hunger community, the importance of maternal and child nutrition cannot be overstated. We know that malnutrition contributes to close to three million childhood deaths under the age of five every year. We also know malnutrition is linked to long-term lifelong illness and impaired cognitive development. We have understood — and advocated for commitments and interventions that address — these devastating consequences for years.

What we could not envision even one year ago was the extent to which the Covid-19 pandemic would highlight — and heighten — health and nutritional disparities around the globe. In November of 2020, the World Food Programme (WFP) estimated that 271.8 million people in countries where it operates were acutely food insecure or at grave risk of becoming so. Within nine months of 2020, the WFP had increased its efforts to reach nearly as many people around the world at it had in all of 2019.

Children remain at the top of the list of most nutritionally impacted by Covid-19, as the very systems that facilitate the production, transportation, and distribution of food were shuttered or faced budgetary and safety setbacks amid the pandemic. UN leaders assert that these types of structural interruptions are to blame for an additional 10,000 child deaths during the first 12 months of the pandemic worldwide.

As G7 leaders and the WFP have highlighted, the crisis is exacerbated in regions affected by climate change, conflict, socio-economic downturns, natural disasters, and pests. Eighty-eight percent of the world’s nations (171 countries) benefitted from the WFP’s global common service platform as of November 2020, indicating that the need is persistent.

Fortunately, there are proven paths forward, but global leaders must double down on their commitments. Nutrition for Growth estimates that 3.7 million lives could be saved by 2025 with the right investments in nutrition. Investing in nutrition, particularly in the first 1,000 Days — the period from pregnancy to a child’s second birthday — greatly contributes to the reduction of child mortality and support long-term health, cognitive development, physical growth, and overall quality of life. Investment in nutrition also benefits the economies of local communities. Every $1 invested to nutrition generates over $35 in economic returns.

World leaders are rightly realizing that addressing nutrition is essential for rebuilding in a post-pandemic world and building resilience for future crises. But this will take bold leadership from President Biden. Fortunately, we have seen what success looks like when there is Presidential leadership.

The Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) was started by Congress in January 2004 under President George W. Bush to support developing countries in promoting growth, reducing poverty, and investing in their futures. Since then, the MCC has invested more than $13 billion for country-led economic development and poverty-reduction programs worldwide.

Similarly, Feed the Future, the U.S. Government’s global hunger and food security initiative under President Obama, unlocked $3.5 billion in financing for food security over eight years, helping an estimated 23.4 million people worldwide lift themselves out of poverty. For context, most of the countries in the world have populations below 23.4 million. The impacts of this funding are sizeable.

Now is the time to expound on the ongoing success of these programs and continue investing in anti-hunger initiatives. Investing in nutrition has bipartisan support, and is something that can galvanize the private sector, faith communities, and anti-hunger NGOs. We can get it done, but the window of opportunity is getting smaller. The Biden administration and the United States Congress have a unique opportunity to lead on this critical issue.