|Food Nutrition and Agriculture - 5/6 International Conference on Nutrition (1992)|
|International Conference on Nutrition: an overview and commentary|
Nutrition and development
Perhaps, from the point of view of the planner and policy-maker, a statement in the World Declaration that may be considered highly significant is the following, contained in item 11.
We recognize that the nutritional well-being of all people is a pre-condition for the development of societies and that it should be a key objective of progress in human development. It must be at the centre of our socio-economic development plans and strategies.
In most developing countries, plagued with resource constraints, programmes for nutrition improvement have generally been looked upon as welfare relief operations, rather than as aspects of the fulfillment of an essential precondition for social and economic development. Nutrition programmes did not enjoy high priority or adequate resource allocation in the development agenda. Nutrition improvement was, at best, perceived as a derived rather than a direct objective of the development process. As a result, there were no strong attempts either to ensure nutritional orientation of national food policies or to lay adequate focus on nutrition in primary health care. Experience belies the facile assumption that improved nutrition will automatically result as a spin-off effect of improved food production or of extended child-survival promotion operations.
In recent years, however, there has been increasing recognition of the importance of the nutrition factor in development, and several large-scale nutrition intervention programmes have been attempted; but these have not necessarily been part of a coherent, well-conceived national nutrition policy.
Socio-economic inequities, the root of the global nutrition problem
From the global point of view, the statements in the World Declaration that draw pointed attention to the inequities and incongruities in the present-day world that lie at the root of the malnutrition problem are highly significant. It is these statements that elevate the declaration from a narrow political plane to the larger humanistic one.
The World Declaration states in its opening paragraph:
Hunger and malnutrition are unacceptable in a world that has both the knowledge and the resources to end this human catastrophe... We recognize that globally there is enough food for all and that inequitable access is the main problem.
Today, we are witness to the cruel paradox of global food surpluses reaching record levels on the one hand, and vast pockets of growing hunger around the world on the other. Because of socio-economic inequities between countries and within countries, millions of poor people around the world do not have adequate access to food. A clear recognition of this truth would call for a humane and equitable economic order at both the global and national levels. Today, because of the debt crisis and the stipulations of international lending agencies, many developing countries are forced to manage their macroeconomic policies in a manner that effectively prevents them from addressing the problems of poverty and hunger among deprived sections of their populations. It is in this context that the following statements (items 16 and 17) in the declaration become highly relevant.
Efforts of low-income countries should be supported by actions of the international community as a whole. Such actions should include an increase in official development assistance in order to reach the accepted United Nations target of 0.7 percent of the GNP of developed countries as reiterated at the 1992 United Nations Conference on Environment and Development. Also, further renegotiation or alleviation of external debt could contribute in a substantive manner to the nutritional well-being in medium-income countries as well as in low-income ones. We acknowledge the importance of further liberalization and expansion of world trade, which would increase foreign exchange earnings and employment in developing countries. Compensatory measures will continue to be needed to protect adversely affected developing countries and vulnerable groups in medium- and low-income countries from negative effects of structural adjustment programmes.
In consonance with the above statements, the World Declaration also pleads (item 10) for a rational redeployment and redirection of available resources "towards productive and socially useful purposes to ensure the nutritional well-being of all people, especially the poor, deprived and vulnerable", seizing the opportunity now created by "changing world conditions and the reduction of international tensions".
The wide expectation implicit in the above statement that, with the cessation of the cold war and consequent ending of the need for an armaments race, the resources of wealthy countries will become increasingly available for socially constructive purposes has not, as yet, materialized. Protective trade barriers which have served to perpetuate (and indeed to aggravate) existing inequities have not been dismantled But perhaps it is too soon to give up all hope in this regard.
The bold and enlightened plea on food aid contained in items 14 and 15 of the World Declaration, and in particular the affirmation (item 15) that "in the context of international humanitarian law, food must not be used as a tool for political pressure" and that "food aid must not be denied because of political affiliation, geographic location, gender, age, ethnic, tribal or religious identity" is noteworthy, especially considering that the signatories to this statement included both the providers and receivers of food aid.
The World Declaration ends (item 19) with a statement of specific goals - the elimination of acute malnutrition in its many forms such as famine and acute starvation, and the substantial reduction of the chronic, less severe forms of undernutrition. These specific goals are no doubt laudable. Perhaps some of them are unlikely to be attained even "substantially" within the decade, even so, to the extent that the statement of these goals reflects the earnest commitment of the official participants to the cause of the nutritional improvement of their peoples, it must be welcome.