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close this bookSCN News, Number 18 - Adequate Food: A Human Right (ACC/SCN, 1999, 116 p.)
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Chair's Message

SCN's 26th Session: History in the Making

The SCN's 26th Session was a ground-breaking event regarding the human right to adequate food. Never before has there been so much high-level support voiced for instituting a human rights-based approach to our development and assistance programmes. It was the SCN which had the foresight to establish a Working Group on Nutrition, Ethics and Human Rights in 1993, and thanks to the hard work and persistence of these individuals, especially Urban Jonsson, Wenche Barth Eide, Uwe Kracht, Arne Oshaug, George Kent, and AsbjEide we will now enter the millennium as a more civil society which explicitly recognizes the need for equity and good governance. I want to thank Mary Robinson, High Commissioner of Human Rights for UNHCHR's gracious hospitality as host for our 26th Session at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.

The symposium incited lively debates about global governance, the development of indicators for the right to food, and the quandary agencies face in deciding when to withdraw their services in the presence of gross human rights violations. Encouraged by our symposium chair Bertie Ramcharan, Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights, to make the right to food real, I am pleased to report that on 12 May 1999, the General Comment was adopted. This document had been stagnating as a draft for more than two years on the UN's Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights agenda. The symposium provided the impetus to take concrete action and further define the right to food.

The Session was full and substantive. The most noted moment occurred when members voted to place the AGN - the third piece of our triumvirate in existence from the birth of the SCN in 1977 - in abeyance for one year and to restructure and streamline its activities. I have faith that the new SCN interim steering committee which has taken on the reform measures will seriously uphold the AGN's important role in moving international nutrition forward. Let me take this opportunity to thank our AGN members for their invaluable guidance as the independent voice of the SCN. Ricardo Uauy (Chile) AGN Chair, has provided numerous contributions and steadfast support to the SCN Secretariat, and now as a steering committee member. The Secretariat was also privileged to receive expert advice from Ruth Oniang'o (Kenya), Eileen Kennedy (US), Lillian Marovatsanga (Zimbabwe) and Krasid Tontisirin (Thailand). I also wish to express my thanks to Lawrence Haddad of IFPRI, who stepped down as an AGN member in January of this year.

The final report of the Commission on the "Nutrition Challenges of the 21st Century: What Role for the UN?" made its debut at this session. The very high rates of stunting and underweight, especially in South Asia, were highlighted in the report, as well as the growing burden of disease related to non-communicable diseases and obesity. The lifecycle consequences of fetal and infant malnutrition and their contribution to non-communicable diseases were strongly underlined. The Commission urged the UN to be bold enough to take creative and coherent action. Several controversial aspects of the report stimulated deliberations which concluded that an executive summary should be published from the report, as well as a "clarion call" aimed at non-nutrition policymakers.

Another topic included the imminent (December 1999) "Fourth Report: World Nutrition Situation", prepared in collaboration with IFPRI. Our Working Groups convened over the weekend to develop priorities and recommendations. In this regard, the SCN again is proud of its newly-established Working Group on the Lifecycle Consequences of Fetal and Infant Malnutrition, chaired by Nevin Scrimshaw. This Working Group reported on the lasting significance of the nutritional and health status of the mother during pregnancy as it affects fetal and infant development. The reduction of low birth weight has become a high priority for health agencies, and I am pleased to announce that the SCN Secretariat will be publishing a Nutrition Policy Paper this Fall on the proceedings of the ICDDR, B Symposium and Workshop on Low Birth Weight that was held recently in Bangladesh.

I think all of us left Geneva on a very positive note, taking up the challenge to incorporate a human rights-based approach into our programmes. We now look forward to planning our 27th Session which will take place in mid-April 2000, hosted by UNICEF in New York City. The proposed theme is "Nutrition 2000: A stocktaking, and challenges for the future".

Lastly, as Chair of the SCN for the past four years, I wish to express my sincere appreciation to those UN agencies, bilaterals and NGOs who have assisted me to further the visibility of the ACC/SCN, to encourage and invite NGOs to participate in our discussions, to identify nutrition challenges in the millennium, and to develop a strategic plan. My position as Chair has been extended for an additional year in order to assist the steering committee with this restructuring process. My door is open -I am keen to use this year to develop a vision of a stronger, even better, triumvirate ACC/SCN for the year 2000 is just around the comer.