UNICEF Executive Director Catherine Russell's Remarks at UN High-Level Event on Conflict, Hunger and Children with Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield Of the United States
As prepared for delivery
NEW YORK (May 17, 2022) – “Excellencies, Colleagues, Friends.
"I am honored to welcome you to UNICEF House for this critical conversation.
"I want to acknowledge and thank the United States Government, and my co-host, United States Ambassador to the United Nations Linda Thomas-Greenfield, for putting children at the center of the discussion on the global food security crisis.
"This crisis is getting worse – and the lives of millions of children hang in the balance.
"The combined force of conflict, climate change, and the economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic was already wreaking havoc on families’ ability to feed their children. Food prices had already hit all-time highs. The war in Ukraine has only made this worse, driving food, fuel, and fertilizer shortages.
"Over the last few months as Executive Director of UNICEF, I have seen with my own eyes what food insecurity means for the most vulnerable children and women.
"It means more than a shortage of food. It means hunger. Malnourishment. Disease. Excruciating pain. Death.
"In April, I visited Gode, in Ethiopia, where I met children suffering from severe wasting – the most lethal form of acute malnutrition. These children were so thin and frail, they seemed skeletal. It was painfully clear that without treatment, some of them might die.
"The month before, I travelled to Kandahar in Afghanistan, where I met the mother of a newborn.
"She was so malnourished that when I put my arm around her shoulders, I could feel her bones through her wrap. When I held her baby, I could barely feel its weight in my arms.
"Most people have never heard of wasting, the most lethal form of malnutrition. But it is one of the leading underlying causes of preventable deaths in children – and it is on the rise, even in comparatively stable communities.
"Children suffering from wasting can’t eat normally. You can’t save starving babies with a bag of wheat. They need urgent therapeutic nutrition, delivered in the form of a paste we call RUTF – ready to use therapeutic food.
"RUTF can literally mean the difference between life and death for a child.
"But this year, around 10 million children who desperately need it are not receiving it. To make matters worse, the price of RUTF has already risen by 16 per cent. If funding doesn’t increase immediately to meet these rising costs, hundreds of thousands of children will not receive this lifesaving treatment.
"So, our conversation today could not be more important or more urgent.
"A child malnutrition catastrophe is not inevitable. We know what works, and we know how to deliver it. But we need to come together – and we need to act.
"We will be joined today by some very special guests – and I thank all of you for taking part in this discussion.
"It’s my privilege and my pleasure now to introduce my co-host today, and a key partner on so many issues concerning children, United States Ambassador to the United Nations, Linda Thomas-Greenfield."
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