Climate Change Threatens Progress on Child Nutrition

Steve Lewis from RESULTS reports on events in New York at the UN General Assembly

In September I marched with over 300,000 people in New York, protesting against Climate Change and the weak global response so far.  But why was I marching on an environment issue when my work with RESULTS is to manage health and nutrition advocacy?

Climate change has the potential to bring about a reversal of all the progress that has been made in recent years in improving child mortality rates and in beginning to tackle the high rates of child undernutrition in developing countries.

In our work on undernutrition the development sector can see cautious signs of progress. Last year political leaders came together at the Nutrition for Growth summit and pledged over $4 billion in new money for nutrition programmes. And researchers published in The Lancet health journal the ten interventions that can be most effective in child nutrition. So the political momentum is there.

Some countries are successfully cutting levels of child stunting. In Ethiopia child stunting rates fell from 57% in 2000 to 44% in 2010. Even more dramatic is data from the Indian state of Maharashtra that showed a reduction in stunting rates from 39% in 2006 to 23% in 2012, thanks to a government programme aimed at infants and mothers.

But this progress is now under threat. Climate change is already altering growing seasons and rainfall patterns. Under current estimates Climate Change will reduce the growth in the worlds food supply by 2% each decade for the rest of the century.

At the UN General Assembly in New York global leaders discussed how to reduce and reverse Climate Change. The UK said that the topic is one of their three priorities for this year’s UN negotiations. If action does not commence soon the consequences will be very bad.

At present around 1 in 9 people around the world do not have enough food to lead healthy lives (800 million people). If temperatures rise by 2 degrees centigrade this number could rise by 25 to 50% by 2050. The World Bank predicts the estimated cost of trying to cope with a 2 degree change as up to $100 billion a year.

My colleague Anushree Shiroor in the RESULTS UK nutrition team told me about her own experiences working in India. “We made some good progress in the UNICEF programme I worked on in communities in Northern India…. But if global leaders cannot address climate change I fear that progress will be reversed. Harvests of stable food crops such as rice could fall by 20% due to increased temperatures.

We need our global leaders to make rapid and committed progress on this issue.

To read more about Climate change and its adverse impact on nutrition, view the following links-

1. The Chicago Council report (2014). Advancing food security in the face of a changing climate
2. The World Bank, Economics of Adaptation to Climate Change 
3. UN Standing Committee on Nutrition News

By Steve Lewis – Global Health Advocacy Manager for RESULTS UK

Useful twitter links:

Steve Lewis – @owstonlewis

HEART – @HEART_RES

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