Although the eradication of chronic child hunger might seem straightforward, the challenge is enormously difficult in practice because of its vast complexity. (See Exhibit 1.) Indeed, significant complicating factors exist at the family, community, and organizational levels:
Lack of Vital Knowledge. The relevant parties may not know about the practices that can fend off chronic child hunger—including breast-feeding, proper hygiene, balanced nutritional intake, and deworming. Receiving the necessary education takes time, and that time may not exist in people’s daily routines.
Social Norms. Norms that guide the behaviors of families, communities, and governments can create sizable hurdles. In a village in Peru, for instance, quinoa, a highly nutritious crop, grew in abundance, offering a ready solution to hunger in the region. But local communities believed that the grain was cursed and refused to consume it.
Competing Demands on Mothers’ Time. A mother might be painfully aware of the importance of having her child treated for severe malnutrition. But if traveling to and from the nearest health center means that she’ll miss a day’s work, compromising her ability to earn enough to feed her other children, she is unlikely to make the trip, even if the treatment is available at no cost.
The Large Number, and Often Overlapping Agendas, of Organizations. Progress against chronic child hunger can be hindered by the sheer number of organizations involved. In a single country, multiple government agencies (including ministries of agriculture, education, and health), UN organizations (such as the World Food Programme, the World Health Organization, UNICEF, and the Food and Agriculture Organization), NGOs, donors, coordinating bodies and movements (such as Scaling Up Nutrition), and other aid organizations are typically engaged in the battle against hunger. Because of mandates from governments or donors, many of those players have their own goals, preferred modes of intervention and operation, and targeted geographic areas and populations. That complexity can translate into redundancy, a lack of coordination, and, ultimately, a lack of impact. In one country, we observed more than 50 entities engaging in the fight against chronic child hunger—yet most children in need still didn’t receive the comprehensive package of essential interventions.
Because so many factors are involved both in the problem of chronic child hunger and in potential solutions, complexity is unavoidable. The task, therefore, is not to try to reduce complexity but to find a different way to think about and manage it.
Since 1990, the international community has issued or established more than 45 declarations, coordinating bodies, and coordinating processes to counter hunger. These include the World Declaration and Plan of Action for Nutrition (1992), the Declaration of the World Food Summit: Five Years Later (2002), the G8 leaders’ Statement on Global Food Security (2009), and the Zero Hunger Challenge (2012).