31/05/2013 13:35 BST | Updated 31/07/2013 06:12 BST

The Opportunity to End Child Hunger and Malnutrition Is Now


In Zambia, mother Mirriam Chongo prepares a meal for her one-year-old son, Peter, outside their home in Mwamfule village. She was making nsima - cornmeal cooked into a thick paste. Unable to get the vital nutrients a child needs, Peter is chronically malnourished and his growth has been stunted as a result.

Peter is just one of many millions of children who have not had access to the right nutrients in their first 1,000 days of life. Without this crucial nutrition in their first days and years, they cannot develop mentally and physically. Their growth is stunted, meaning that they cannot reach their full potential, and they cannot grow up to bring prosperity to their families, communities and countries. The damage done to their bodies and brains is irreversible - there is no cure for stunting and Peter is just one of 165million children facing a life of lost potential and pain.

However, we know that with the will of governments and expertise of organisations like ourselves, we have the power to change this statistic and improve the lives of millions of children. By addressing chronic malnutrition, we can break the poverty cycle and ensure effective global development.

Adequate nutrition not only benefits the health and life chances of a child, it is also the most cost-effective way to boost development and break ingrained poverty. Investing in nutrition can increase a country's GDP by at least 2-3% annually and recoup billions of dollars in lost productivity and avoidable healthcare spending.

A Unicef report, released last month, 'Improving Child Nutrition: The achievable imperative for global progress', is clear that the staggering problem of stunting can be alleviated with scaled-up investment in simple, low-cost solutions. We know that a holistic approach which includes access to nutritious food and safe water, and promoting exclusive breastfeeding and good hygiene are key solutions for preventing and treating under-nutrition and stopping intergenerational cycles of stunting in children.

And there are proven results, also documented in our report. By scaling up nutrition and improving programmes and behaviour change in Peru for example, stunting fell by a third between 2006 and 2011; and in Ethiopia stunting in children decreased from 57% to 44% between 2000 and 2011. In fact, over the past 20 years alone, the number of undernourished children in the world has fallen by 88 million; And I'm proud that Unicef and partners have played a crucial role in this success. But now is the time to push beyond what we've already achieved.

In just over one week, on 8 June, the UK Government will host the Nutrition for Growth Event ahead of the G8, presenting the opportunity to establish long-term change for children, their communities and nations across the world. As a global leader in child nutrition, Unicef wants to see further commitments to bring about an even greater reduction in the number of children exposed to the damaging effects of chronic malnutrition, as an important milestone towards the elimination of child malnutrition.

Everyone has their role to play in achieving this goal; the Nutrition for Growth Summit is an opportunity to bring the public sector and private sector together to ensure that the multifaceted approach, required to end child malnutrition, is delivered. The private sector must help accelerate action to tackle the underlying causes of malnutrition including addressing low incomes and insufficient crop yields.

On Saturday 8 June, we have a real opportunity to not only change the futures of millions of children, but also those of their countries. I hope all those attending the Nutrition for Growth Event see the power they have to impact long-term global development and make the financial commitment necessary.

UNICEF UK is part of the UK's Enough Food for Everyone IF campaign, lobbying G8 leaders to end world hunger -