What We Can Do About Food Insecurity

By Kate Hampton and David Miliband
Special to The Times Kuwait

In London on November 20, the United Kingdom will host the Global Food Security Summit and launch a new strategy for international development. Despite pressing crises like the conflict in Gaza, we must stay focused on other parts of the global system, where ongoing crises of hunger, malnutrition, and food insecurity demand an urgent response. Faced with immense suffering around the world, we need a UK government that is willing and able to offer solutions.

The organizations we lead — the Children’s Investment Fund Foundation (CIFF) and the International Rescue Committee (IRC) — are resolutely committed to protecting vulnerable children and families wherever they are. In Gaza, the IRC has set out detailed proposals for a humanitarian ceasefire to save the lives of Palestinian civilians and increase urgent access to food, while CIFF is helping to lead the charge on issues like child wasting. We each have a clear stake in the success of the summit (which CIFF has helped organize) and the government’s new strategy for international development.

The global hunger crisis has become critical. Around 345 million people are facing acute levels of food insecurity this year – more than double the number in 2020 – and 45 million children under five suffer from acute malnutrition. Up to two million of those children die every year, and climate change and violent conflict are making the problem even worse.

Over the last decade, CIFF has invested over half a billion dollars in treating and preventing child wasting, and understanding what works to improve nutrition. It is a proud anchor partner to the Child Nutrition Fund, the largest global response to the child wasting crisis, which will be a key focus of the summit.

For its part, the IRC helps people in more than 50 countries whose lives have been shattered by conflicts and crises such as climate change. It constantly tests and scales up innovations to treat problems like malnutrition and food insecurity, for example by providing farmers and families in countries like Niger, Pakistan, South Sudan, and Syria with climate-resilient seeds and secure livelihoods. Proven solutions exist.

But we must all go further. To succeed, the summit needs to deliver on four fronts. First, participants should commit to scaling up proven, cost-saving solutions and innovations. A good example is ready-to-use therapeutic food (RUTF), a fortified peanut paste that helps 92 percent of acutely malnourished children recover, but which most children in conflict-affected settings cannot currently access. More than a decade of research from the IRC shows that with simplified, combined protocols, more children can be reached with the same resources. A study in Mali, for example, found a 30 percent cost saving.

The World Health Organization will also use the summit to introduce new guidelines on the treatment and prevention of wasting, taking a positive step toward decentralizing and expanding treatment globally.

Second, the summit can combine disparate responses to the closely related climate- and food-security crises. A new IRC analysis shows that humanitarian need is particularly concentrated in just 16 conflict-affected, climate-vulnerable countries.

Given the importance of climate finance, we must tie the summit’s outcomes to the upcoming United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP28) and the UK government’s own new development strategy. Ensuring that climate finance reaches the most vulnerable communities requires improving local-level climate-risk mapping and access to grants, as well as operationalizing the Loss and Damage Fund established at COP27. Loss and damage support should come in addition to existing climate-finance commitments and be proportional to vulnerable communities’ needs.

Addressing climate finance also means tackling the global debt crisis and responding to the need for a more sustainable debt regime. It is well known that countries with shrinking fiscal space increasingly lack the capacity to invest in human capital and prevent food insecurity.

Third, the summit can set the stage for closing the global nutrition-financing gap in 2024. Donor governments must look ahead with ambition to next year’s Nutrition for Growth Summit, by increasing their bilateral financial support for food security and starting to mobilize more effective and inclusive pooled funds.

Finally, the summit must mobilize political will, by uniting world leaders and partner governments around a global plan to address food insecurity once and for all. Lofty rhetoric by global leaders must translate into policy implementation that includes practical support for national nutrition and food-security plans. With a concerted, coordinated effort, we can turn the tide on global food insecurity, and the UK can demonstrate its capacity to lead.

The Global Food Security Summit – and the accompanying development strategy – could be a significant catalyst. Ten years ago, Andrew Mitchell, currently the UK minister of state for development and Africa, and David Cameron, the former prime minister who has just returned to serve as foreign secretary, helped unlock hundreds of millions of dollars for nutrition aid at the UK-hosted Nutrition for Growth Summit in 2013. Now, the UK and its partners must deliver again.

Kate Hampton 
Kate Hampton is CEO of the Children’s Investment Fund Foundation.

David Miliband
David Miliband, a former British foreign secretary and member of the World Health Organization Independent Panel for Pandemic Preparedness and Response, is CEO of the International Rescue Committee.

Copyright: Project Syndicate

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