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My Child No Longer Eats Sand

December 17, 2012

Only those who have been witnesses to the child malnutrition prevention programs and treatment of acute cases, are able to gauge their impact. Just a few days after starting the food supplements, children regain their vitality, smile and their desire to play, and families become the best sponsor for the campaign. Some mothers describe the effects with striking simplicity: "My child no longer eats sand." All the harshness of hunger and all hope of a better present in only six words.

The fight against child malnutrition sums up the all the arguments in favor of development aid: the reduction of inequalities that hamper the future of children is a just investment, effective and efficient, and Mauritania is a case of little known success in this battle. Although chronic malnutrition still affects one in four children under five, over the last decades Mauritania has achieved halving its prevalence and strides towards meeting the Millennium Development Goal by 2015. Had it followed the path of the continent, Mauritania would have an additional 87,000 malnourished children today.

During the last five years the country has been taking steps that would allow it to prevent malnutrition in the future and has been able to do so thanks to the political will of the Government, the creativity of humanitarian organizations and the financial resources from donors. Spain, in particular, has played a leading role in this effort and the REACH initiative has been the instrument. Through this approach, the government and international agencies have combined active nutrition policies, food security and social protection measures in an innovative and coordinated effort that can lead the way in the fight against hunger in the coming decades.

At a time of widespread austerity on public spending, as is occurring in Spain, there is a need to justify the value and impact of each euro. Cases like the one described by the recent report by UNICEF Spain, "My child no longer eats sand" (“Mi hijo ya no come arena”) are excellent opportunities to demonstrate to Spanish taxpayers, the value of aid and the need to sustain development cooperation programs. Cooperating to contribute to the effort of all those people who face the consequences of inequality has real, concrete results: 87,000 less children will no longer eat sand in Mauritania.

Now, the question a lot of us ask ourselves is how we are going to maintain this success in the future, when the multiple crises that punish the Sahel region, are added to the uncertainties on the financial commitment of donor countries like Spain, which has reduced funds for development aid by 70% in recent years.

Still, even in this context of crisis, there is scope to make strategic decisions and find solutions that do not generate more inequality. The protection of the vulnerable must be at the center of all decisions. It is the only way to avoid, as recently said by Ban Ki-Moon, that “we place the burden of fiscal austerity on the backs of the poor”.

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