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MOS for Trade and Development, Mr Joe Costello, T.D., at the launch of World Vision Report

Health, Speeches, Global, 2012


Ladies and Gentlemen

I would like to thank World Vision for inviting me here today to launch “The Best Start” report; Saving Children’s Lives In Their First Thousand Days.  This important report highlights the urgent need for greater global effort to halt the tragedy of hunger and under-nutrition which has particularly devastating consequences in early childhood.

The report underlines the relationship between poor nutrition and the health and welfare of growing children; it points to the evidence we now have to inform better programming; it highlights the need for political commitment, national action and local participation for more effective responses to tackle this insidious threat to child health.

 When we think about early childhood, we think about the birth of a child, a time of hope and joy for families throughout the world.  It is also a time when new parents wonder about their newborn’s future and what he or she might accomplish in life. They strive to nurture and protect the infant and hope that their child will enjoy good health, happiness and the opportunity to fulfil his or her potential. 

We all want what is best for our children. Sadly, millions of parents in the developing world face the heartbreak of being unable to meet their children’s most basic needs.  The future of millions of children is compromised before birth due to the poor health of their mothers from the time of conception. 

The poor health status of a pregnant mother too often translates into the delivery of an underweight or premature baby. A poorly nourished infant – too often grows up to be a young mother who experiences poor health. This young mother then gives birth to a small child – and so the viscious cycle continues.


Impacts of malnutrition

We recognise global hunger as the biggest development challenge of our time.  It is both a consequence and a cause of poverty. 

We know that good nutrition in the first 1000 days of life, during pregnancy and up to a child’s second birthday, is essential if a child is to reach its full physical and intellectual potential.   

Each year, 3 million children under 5 die as a result of under-nutrition.  Millions more never achieve their full potential due to harmful long-term effects of poor nutrition.  The most vulnerable people in developing countries are worst affected by under-nutrition.  This in turn significantly undermines efforts to eradicate poverty and promote sustainable development. 

The first UN Millennium Development Goal aims to halve the proportion of people suffering from hunger by 2015.  With just three years remaining, this target is seriously off-track, most notably in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia.  In 2008, it was estimated that 862 million people were going hungry worldwide.  At the end of 2011, that number increased to almost 1 billion, 7 out of 10 of whom are women and children. 


Ireland’s response

The urgency of the fight to end hunger resonates strongly with the Irish people reflecting Ireland’s historical experience of famine. It is one of the reasons why international development is as a central pillar of Ireland’s Foreign Policy. 

The Irish Aid White Paper published in 2006 underlined Ireland’s strong commitment to tackling global hunger.  It committed Ireland to the appointment of a Hunger Task Force to advise on how best to contribute to the reduction of global hunger.   The Hunger Task Force recommended three key actions:

-         Improving smallholder agricultural productivity in Africa, particularly amongst women farmers who account for up to 80% of food production;

-         the prevention of maternal and infant under – nutrition, and

-         the promotion of governance and leadership to reduce global hunger at both the national and international level.

 The Hunger Task Force also recommended that 20% of the Irish Aid budget should be used to support hunger related activities by 2012.   

Significant progress has been made in implementing the Hunger Task Force Recommendations.   We have met the 20% target and Ireland has played a leading role in global efforts to combat hunger and maternal and child under-nutrition. 


Scaling Up Nutrition (SUN)

Building on our historical ties with the United States, our two countries have formed a strong alliance to focus international attention on the importance of tackling under-nutrition in the critical first 1000 days of a child’s life. 

 World Vision’s Best Start Report, which I am launching to-day, highlights the importance of the Lancet series on malnutrition which was published in 2008, and the subsequent establishment of the Scaling Up Nutrition Movement, to inform evidence based and accelerated responses to this global problem.

Ireland is working closely with the United States, the United Nations Secretary General, and our partners in Africa to promote the SUN movement.  We are working to bring together governments, donors, civil society, the United Nations and the private sector to support developing countries’ efforts to address maternal and child under-nutrition.   

Ireland has played a lead role in the SUN movement in Tanzania and Malawi and is actively supporting SUN processes in countries such as Ethiopia, Zambia, Uganda, Mozambique and Sierra Leone.

Through the Irish Aid programme, Ireland is supporting food security for smallholder farmers, particularly women.  Interventions include the provision of seeds and fertiliser, promoting crop diversification and improving soil fertility and natural resource management.  Assistance is also provided for agricultural research that helps poor people to grow improved crop varieties to nourish their families.

Irish Aid support for maternal and child health is focused on poor and vulnerable pregnant mothers and their children.  Our support includes nutrition interventions promoting positive behaviour change, providing food supplements and support for therapeutic feeding and community management of acute malnutrition.  

Ireland’s civil society partners are playing a pivotal role in combating hunger and under-nutrition.  This is reflected in the recent appointments of Mary Robinson and Tom Arnold to the UN Scaling Up Nutrition Lead Group.  Through piloting innovative interventions, working closely with communities to empower them to prioritise nutrition, using local systems, and sharing evidence of what works and what doesn’t, civil society is at the vanguard of global hunger efforts.

World Vision’s Access Infant and Maternal (AIM) Health programme, which is supported by Irish Aid, is an excellent example of an innovative approach. 

 It is focused on the first 1000 days and aims to reduce infant and maternal mortality by 25% in 10 target areas in Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, Sierra Leone and Mauritania by 2015.  The knowledge and experience gathered by World Vision and set out in “The Best Start” report has strongly informed the AIM Health programme.  In addition, “The Best Start” campaign is helping to increase public awareness and understanding of the critical importance of nutrition in the first 1000 days of a child’s life.


White Paper Review

Looking forward, it is timely to assess the changing context at home and abroad and how key issues, such as hunger, climate change, governance, human rights and gender equality are impacting on poverty.  Much has changed since the White Paper on Irish Aid was published in 2006.  For this reason, a review of the aid programme was included as one of the commitments in the Programme for Government.  

From the launch of the review in February, we have consulted widely.  Public consultations in Dublin, Cork, Limerick and Galway have been well attended and we have received 160 written inputs, including an excellent submission from World Vision. These contributions are being used to shape the future direction of the programme. 

Amongst the key messages that have emerged from the consultations, it is clear that there is huge support from the Irish people for the Government’s aid programme, even at a time of economic difficulty in Ireland.

 There is very strong support for ensuring our aid is targeted at those countries and people who need it most; for responding effectively to humanitarian emergencies; for keeping the reduction of hunger as a core policy priority; for ensuring there is a sharp focus on value for money and for results; and for better engaging Irish people, organisations and institutions.

 We are planning to complete the White Paper Review in the autumn. It will provide a fresh policy direction for Irish Aid, appropriate for our changing circumstances.  It will set out a clear vision and priorities for how Irish Aid can continue to deliver real and lasting results for people living in poverty.


Presidency of the Council of the EU

On the first of January 2013, Ireland assumes the Presidency of the Council of the European Union. 2013 will mark the 40th anniversary of our accession to the EU and of our development cooperation programme, Irish Aid. 

 Ireland is planning an active Presidency in what is a crucial preparatory period for shaping the post-2015 development framework.  A Special Event to consider progress on the United Nations Millennium Development Goals is due to be held during the 68th session of the UN General Assembly in 2013.  It will also consider for the first time the shape of the post-2015 development framework.

In discussions on the post-2015 development framework, we will build on our commitment to eradicate hunger and seek to highlight the important linkages between hunger, nutrition and climate change and to have these linkages adequately reflected in the international discussions. 

 Ireland will also seek to forge stronger links between humanitarian relief and development aid. Drawing on lessons from the Horn of Africa emergency in 2011, and with input from our partners in developing countries, we will explore the practical application of these principles and showcase examples of best practice.


Concluding remarks

At every opportunity, Ireland will continue to use its political voice to reinforce its development priorities and to engage all stakeholders - governments, the UN, civil society and the private sector – to respond to global hunger.  As one of the world’s largest NGOs, World Vision’s leadership on maternal and child under-nutrition is very welcome and complements Ireland’s approach to the fight against hunger. 

It is clear that the scale of the challenge ahead is enormous.  We agree with the analysis presented in “The Best Start” report.  We can make a lasting difference but only if we prioritise hunger, set aside dedicated resources and work together at international, national and local levels to strengthen local systems and improve accountability to poor people. 

Thank you for your invitation to launch this important report.