[Capitol Corner] Urge your legislators to support a $130 million contribution to UNICEF
Imagine the shock waves that would register throughout the world if the combined populations of New York and Paris--more than 10 million people--were wiped out in a single year. A loss of lives on this scale is numbing--but that's the number of children under five who die every year from diseases that are largely preventable. What's more, hunger and undernutrition are underlying factors in over half of these deaths. Undernutrition in mothers is the major cause of low birthweight in at least 20 million babies a year. Infants who are underweight at birth face much higher risks of chronic illness and early death because their tiny bodies have little resistance to disease. The absence of micronutrients in a mother's diet also has an impact; for example, if a mother lacks iodine, the infant is at risk of irreversible brain damage. Caryl Stern, the U.S. Fund for UNICEF's Chief Operating Officer testified today before the House Appropriations Committee's Subcommittee on State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs, and painted a less than rosy picture: "One underweight and undernourished child is an individual tragedy, but multiplied by tens of millions, undernutrition becomes a global threat to societies and to economies." She noted that hunger and poor nourishment have a negative impact on economic development by slowing growth and perpetuating the cycle of poverty. Despite this threat and the profound waste of young lives, the world is far from being on track to fix the problem. There is a long way to go just to reach the U.N.s Millennium Development Goal for 2015 of lowering the percentage of underweight kids by half--one reason why UNICEF and the World Food Program are working together on the End Child Hunger and Undernutrition Initiative. Their partnership will help developing countries provide an affordable package of basic goods and services--such as vital micronutrient supplements, clean water, information on prevention of diarrhea, and health and hygiene education--all of which will make a huge difference in saving lives. As Caryl noted, food aid alone is not the solution--helping the world's population of undernourished children requires a coordinated, holistic approach to keeping kids healthy. Caryl urged the legislators to provide $130 million for the U.S. Government's contribution to UNICEF for Fiscal Year 2008--and we're urging every friend of children to use our online Action Center to send an e-mail to Congress to support this funding. We'll post Caryl's complete testimony soon, and keep you up to date on the status of this funding.