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Excellencies, distinguished guests, colleagues, good morning and thank you all for joining us today.
Let me begin by thanking the Government of the Republic of Turkey. I know how much work went into the organization of this Conference, which reflects Turkey’s commitment to international development and to the least developed countries.
I am honoured to join today his Excellency, Prime Minister of Nepal Jhala Nath Khanal, and I want to thank all our co-sponsors – Nepal, the United States, and our sister UN agency, the World Food Programme – for being here. And let me thank my friend and distinguished UNICEF alumnus Sir Richard Jolly for guiding us through a discussion to which I have so looked forward.
This conference was convened to address the continuing challenges facing LDCs. I can think of none more pressing than the one we are here today to discuss. For few things have a more far-reaching effect on a child’s wellbeing – or a nation’s long-term strength – than nutrition. And the situation is urgent.
Imagine a disadvantaged child, growing up in one of the world’s poorest countries.
Born to an anaemic mother, she is underweight from birth but does not receive the rich colostrum or early breast milk that can help to overcome those earliest deficits.
In the first two years of her life, she is often hungry and rarely if ever gets the nutrients she needs. Often sick, she grows slowly, but somehow, she survives.
If she is lucky enough even to attend school – and many are not – her undernourished body and mind make it more difficult to learn, with deficits equivalent to a 2 to 3 year loss of schooling.
When she is old enough to begin working, her diminished physical and cognitive development can reduce her earning capacity by as much as 22 per cent, in turn making it more difficult for her to feed her own children.
So, imagine the child I just described, and then imagine 195 million other children. They are all suffering from stunting – the irreversible outcome of chronic nutritional deficiency, often aggravated by illness, during the critical period of pregnancy and the first two years of a child’s life. And the damage it causes to a child’s development is permanent.
Just 24 countries account for more than 80 percent of the global stunting burden. Of those, 14 are LDCs. In 7 countries, 50 percent or more of all children under five suffer from this terrible – and preventable –condition. In most other LDCs the figure is at least a third.
This silent emergency receives far too little attention.
Many of us have witnessed first-hand the tragic effects of extreme food shortages – and we have all seen images in the media of children just clinging to life, their bodies weakened from severe acute malnutrition. They appear on our television screens, challenging our collective conscience. Their needs must always be addressed. Their condition can be cured.
So again, I thank you all for coming – but, more, I thank you for caring about this critical issue. I am looking forward to hearing more – and to learning more – from our distinguished panellists. Thank you."