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Climate Change Could Reverse Progress on Child Nutrition

Steve Lewis is the Head of Global Health at RESULTS UK, an ACTION partner. This blog was originally posted on the RESULTS UK blog, which you can follow for Steve's updates from the UN.

Yesterday I marched with over 300,000 people in New York, protesting against the weak global response against climate change so far. But why was I marching on an environmental issue when my work is to manage health and nutrition advocacy?

Climate change has the potential to reverse of progress made in recent years to improving child mortality rates, and to begin to tackle high rates of child undernutrition in developing countries.

In our work on undernutrition at RESULTS UK we can see cautious signs of progress. Last year, political leaders came together at the Nutrition for Growth summit in London and pledged over $4 billion in new money for nutrition programs. And research published in The Lancet laid out the ten interventions that can be most effective in child nutrition. So political momentum is there.

Further, some countries are successfully cutting levels of child stunting. In Ethiopia the government was able to cut child stunting rates from 57% in 2000 to 44% in 2010. Even more dramatic is data from the Indian state of Maharashtra, which shows the government there cut stunting rates from 39% in 2006 to 23% in 2012, thanks to a government program aimed at the needs of infants and mothers.

But this progress is under threat by climate change, which is already altering growing seasons and rainfall patterns. Under current estimates, climate change will reduce the growth in the world's food supply by 2% each decade for the rest of the century.

Tomorrow at the UN General Assembly here in New York global leaders will discuss how to reduce and reverse climate change. The UK has said that the topic is one of their three priorities for this year's UN General Assembly. 

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 it is estimated that this number will rise by between 25 to 50% by 2050. The World Bank has estimated the cost of trying to cope with a 2 degree change as up to $100 billion dollars a year.

Speaking with my colleague Anushree Shiroor on the RESULTS UK nutrition team, she 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 get control over the climate 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.

Photo credits – Steve Lewis. Follow this blog during the week for more news from the week of UN General Assembly. The opinions given in the blog are those of the author and not necessarily those of RESULTS UK