This year, the Eleanor Crook Foundation celebrates our 25th anniversary. We were founded with a single mission: to end global hunger and malnutrition. A milestone anniversary brings with it reflection. In our case, awe at global progress since our founding and despair in the face of more recent trends.
Today, a perfect storm of COVID-19, conflict, extreme drought, supply chain disruptions, and historic inflation is driving rapid global increases in famine-like conditions and deaths from malnutrition. By the summer, 350,000 children are expected to die from malnutrition in Somalia alone. In Yemen, half a million children are facing deadly severe malnutrition. In Afghanistan, UNICEF warns that without urgent action, over 1 million Afghan children are at risk of dying from wasting. Similar emergency levels of severe malnutrition have been reached in regions of Ethiopia, Kenya, South Sudan, Madagascar, and the Sahel. Putin’s invasion of Ukraine is significantly constraining the global availability of food, fertilizer, and fuel, as well as humanitarian resources to respond to these other emergencies around the world.
We are encouraged by the upcoming high-level conversations around global food aid in the US and at the G7. However, a crucial element is currently not on the agenda. Traditional food aid–while essential–will not be sufficient to keep millions of severely malnourished children alive. We know that ready-to-use therapeutic food (RUTF) is the single best tool to prevent child deaths from severe malnutrition. In order to effectively save lives, we must ensure that scaling up emergency production of RUTF is part of any near-term global food aid or humanitarian response. Currently, the world only produces enough RUTF to treat 1 in every 4 severely malnourished children. With an additional $200 million per year in funding, we could double the global supply of RUTF, and for the first time in history, begin reaching the majority of the world’s severely malnourished children with care. With an additional $600 million, we could produce enough RUTF to reach all severely malnourished children with treatment.
ECF remains dedicated to sustainably scaling up a focused package of high-impact malnutrition interventions. Yet, at this moment of global emergency, scaling up RUTF must be the primary focus of the global nutrition community. Rates of child wasting are all but certain to continue increasing over the coming months, and thousands of lives will be lost if we do not begin to scale up treatment services now.
The fate of so many rests on what we choose to do now as a community.