16 February 2012

Hearts and Minds: Relocate the 2013 G8

This week, the Guardian newspaper and BBC Radio ran headline stories on Save the Children's excellent report "A Life Free from Hunger" (pdf) which is about tackling child malnutrition. Also this week, an excellent article in The Hindu by Harsh Mander "Barefoot, the Other Side of Life" documenting two Indian men, who lived and studies overseas, on their return to India and attempt to live on 100 Rupees a day -- average income (minus accommodation) and on 32 Rupees a day, the official urban poverty line.

The Save report presents all the facts about nutrition: levels, causes, consequences, interventions and policies, resources needed, and political commitment needed. It is exemplary in its combination of accuracy, readability and action orientation. It does a really good job of connecting to the minds of people who read blogs like this but who do not know much about malnutrition.

The article by Mander, an activist for social justice and a Special Commissioner to the Supreme Court of India, does a good job of connecting to the hearts of readers who are not poor what it is like to be poor: thinking about food all day long, only being able to travel distances that you can walk, deciding about whether to spend money on soap or food (but not both) and the terror of falling to even a minor illness.

The Save report had authentic vignettes from mothers about the challenges they faced in helping their babies avoid the ravages of malnutrition, but unless you see it for yourself, these accounts do not really hit home. For people who do not directly experience these conditions, the Hindu piece potentially had more of an impact because you can imagine yourself in that "walk in my shoes" situation, whereas it is very difficult to imagine what it must be like to be a mother in, say, Niger battling disease, high food prices, dirty water and unsanitary conditions while bringing up babies and other children.

One of the things the UK media picked up was the Save report's call for the G8 in 2013 in the UK to be focused on food and nutrition. But there will be pressure on the UK to scale back the G8 summit. The 2010 Canadian one--David Cameron's first--was reported to have cost £650 million pounds (or about 6% of what it would cost to scale up direct nutrition interventions globally). So if you are going to spend that much money on a summit, it is very good if the summit is focused on food and nutrition (there are so many other international fora to talk money and economics).

Some would say a better idea would be to scrap the 2013 G8 summit and spend the extra £650 million on nutrition programmes.

Even better still locate the 2013 G8 in a place where over 50% of children are stunted. Give the political leaders a 24 hour taste of life in a poor village. Each of the 8 leaders could go to a different village and compare notes and experiences afterwards on what they have seen about how to keep babies free from malnutrition. The UK would still set the agenda and lead the talks, but in partnership with the host country.

Would a G8 meeting in a very non G8 setting be a security nightmare? Probably. An empty gesture? It depends how it is done. Would it get people talking about food and nutrition? Possibly. Would the political leaders be more fired up about doing something about how the other half lives? Likely. Would it be a better way to spend £650 million? Definitely.


Unknown said...

Food is a basic human need. If two men can live on 100 rupees only without a bed to sleep unto, except the ground, chances are, they would be needing more for possible illness that they may harbor from the streets. However, resilience is developed by doing so. Seeing that in India's culture, we frequent the best indian restaurant perth back home. The flavors this restaurant generates speaks well of the resilience and perseverance of the people of India.

Annah Lebrun said...

I may have to agree with Larry, food is for a fact a very vital human need. Food serves as fuel for a man’s everyday life. I’ve also read from some restaurant internet marketing websites that almost all restaurants now are becoming conscious of the foods that they serve, to the point that they slash meat and other salty foods in their menu to help other people gain nutrition and prevent malnutrition.

Louis Perkins said...

This efforts should not stop at conferences. It could also be communicated with restaurants throughout the nation or perhaps worldwide, to serve not just better tasting food but adequately nutritious servings, too.

Jacob Gardiner said...

Yeah, I agree with what Louis said, political leaders should also consider negotiating with restaurants to be sensitive and meticulous with the foods that they serve. And if they can also help with the malnourished ones by donating excess foods from their restos.

Herman Cochran said...

If they are planning to invest the extra £650 million on nutrition programmes, they have to plan a good strategy. They can seek out help or any advice coming from any marketing companies.

Tia Wheeler said...

During this time we are lucky that we have social media to rapidly spread the news. Information that needs to be bought to people from all walks of life can be delivered in mere seconds. To inform them of what is happening to the other side of the world.