LONDON (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Donors are providing more money to tackle malnutrition in recognition of a global problem that until recently was overlooked, the head of the U.N. World Food Programme (WFP) said on Friday.
The WFP's chief executive Ertharin Cousin was speaking a day before the British and Brazilian governments were due to host a "Nutrition for Growth" summit in London, which is expected to generate billions of dollars in funding.
"Nutrition is one of those issues that has not always been a high priority issue for the global community," Cousin told reporters on a teleconference.
"In fact, seven years ago you probably couldn't have gotten any traction around the nutrition issue but now we're seeing increased investment by governments as well as by the private sector and institutions in nutrition."
The European Union announced its pledge on Friday to provide $4.6 billion over the next seven years to help combat malnutrition in the developing world, the largest such EU donation to deal with nutrition.
Asked how much money the London nutrition conference was likely to raise, Cousin said some estimates were in "the tens of billions of dollars".
A study released in the British journal the Lancet on Thursday cited new evidence that 45 percent of all deaths of children under 5 years of age are caused by malnutrition.
In a separate report released this week, the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) said some 870 million people worldwide go to bed hungry, but billions are suffering from one or more forms of malnutrition.
Malnutrition during the critical 'first 1,000 days' from conception can cause lasting damage to women's health and life-long physical and cognitive impairment in children.
WFP and the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) said they planned to roll out pilot programmes to improve nutrition among women before, during and after pregnancy in Burkina Faso, Sierra Leone and Zambia.
Women taking part in the pilot programmes will be provided with nutritional food supplements, including micronutrients such as iron, folic acid, and calcium - in an attempt to reduce the number of babies with a low birth rate and stunted children.
"As we have moved forth from food aid to food assistance, there's a recognition in all of our operations that it's not just about filling stomachs but ensuring that you're providing the right food, particularly focused on the 1,000 days," Cousin said.