Institute Insights: July 2019


Hunger Report 2019: Back to Basics

From the Director

Each July when the U.N.’s High Level Political Forum meets, dozens of countries submit progress reports on several of the Sustainable Development Goals. This year’s goals include Goal 13, climate action. Bread for the World Institute has been emphasizing the importance of slowing and then ending climate change because it is one of the main causes of global hunger.

The Institute’s 2019 Hunger Report, Back to Basics: How to End Hunger by 2030, to be released this month, takes a look at five areas of concern, issues where advocacy for better policy is necessary in order to end hunger and malnutrition. Climate change is one of them. Another is livelihoods—meaning that everyone in the workforce has a dignified way of earning enough to provide for her or his family.

This issue of Institute Insights also touches on the other three Hunger Report themes: nutrition, in a description of how communities can detect and treat child malnutrition; fragility, in a look at successes and challenges as the world marks the 30th anniversary of the Convention on the Rights of the Child; and gender, connecting domestic violence with food insecurity and hunger in the United States.

The lead article of the New York Times Climate Action newsletter of June 19 was "Don't Do Just One Thing." “One Thing You Can Do” is a regular section of the newsletter—but, according to editor Tik Root, the suggested “one thing” should be seen as encouragement to become more deeply involved, rather than as “the answer,” or all any individual needs to do about climate change. Carina Barnett-Loro, a senior program manager at the Climate Advocacy Lab, said that “one thing” multiplied by millions of individuals is important, but cautioned that taking a small action can sometimes prove to be satisfying enough to dispel an activist’s sense of urgency about the bigger problem.

"I don't see a way that small personal actions get us to scale fast enough to meet the magnitude of the climate crisis,” Barnett-Loro said. “It can’t just be one thing. It needs to be one thing and a complete transformation.”

Her response recalls the reason Bread for the World is an advocacy organization. All the actions individuals take to help people facing hunger, from donating canned goods to serving a holiday meal to people who wouldn’t otherwise have one, are important. They meet very visible and immediate needs. But by themselves, they cannot solve the problem of hunger, because it is a structural problem, Changes in government policy—and often changes in public priorities as well—are needed to solve structural problems. Advocating for these changes with elected officials is a way for people in a democracy to multiply their impact many times over—writing, calling, or visiting your member of Congress is not “just one thing.”

A graphic Bread produced a couple of years ago is a quick way to explain “why advocacy?” to fellow church members, neighbors, family, and others. Of the 10 grocery bags of food assistance shown, only one is filled by charitable donations. The others are funded by the U.S. government. Working to shape policies and budgets is a way to fill the nine bags as well as the one.

Similarly, whether the world succeeds in limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius, as climate scientists warn is vital to avoiding the worst consequences, is up to national leadership, policies, and budgets—largely those of a few nations that produce the largest amounts of greenhouse gases. Since the United States is one of those countries, your climate advocacy can make a significant difference, just as your advocacy on hunger and malnutrition has made and will continue to make a difference.

To read Back to Basics, with more detailed information on how to end hunger by 2030 by improving policies on climate, livelihoods, nutrition, fragility, and gender, visit the Hunger Report website on or after July 22.

Asma Lateef is director of Bread for the World Institute

Asma Lateef is director of Bread for the World Institute.

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Photo by Rick Reinhard for Bread for the World

Celebrating the Rights of the Child

By Michele Learner

2019 is the 30th anniversary of the adoption of the Convention on the Rights of the Child. The Convention clearly describes the rights of children, defined as all people younger than 18. There are explanations of issues that range from the right to have one’s birth registered and the right to a nationality, to rights associated with general childhood concerns such as family support and education, to the rights of children in special circumstances such as those with disabilities, those accused of a criminal offense, or those being recruited into militias.

UNICEF lists a few of the many improvements made in protecting children's rights since the Convention went into effect. Deaths among children under 5 have been cut in half. Malnutrition rates in this age group have been nearly cut in half. And 2.6 billion additional people have access to cleaner water. At the same time, there is a long way to go. Childhoods are cut short by child marriage. Approximately 262 million school-age children are not in school. Climate change threatens the homes and livelihoods of increasing numbers of people in the next generation.

Children's rights matter for many reasons. To mention just a few: they are human beings; they begin life utterly dependent; their experiences shape humanity’s future; government actions and changes in society affect them disproportionately; and the costs of failing them are enormous.

Children—their survival, health, nutrition, and more—are a significant focus of Bread’s work since hunger and malnutrition affect them disproportionately and the effects can be fatal or irreversible. Article 24 of the Convention is particularly applicable to Bread’s mission, since it describes children’s right to the highest attainable standards of health and health care. The document mentions the need to reduce infant and child mortality and to combat disease and malnutrition. Society and adults are charged with providing children with adequate nutritious foods and clean drinking water. Article 24 also mentions the need for prenatal care for pregnant women and the need to support parents in acquiring “basic knowledge of child health and nutrition, the advantages of breastfeeding, hygiene and environmental sanitation…”

Various parts of the Convention enumerate children’s rights to protection. Sustainable Development Goal 16 (section 2) is more specific, calling on all parties to “end abuse, exploitation, trafficking, and all forms of violence and torture against children.” Bread’s focus on conflict, violence, and fragility—as both causes and results of hunger and malnutrition—means that these issues are also particularly important to our work.

U.N. sources estimate that 1 billion children, perhaps more, are directly affected by violence every year. Taking up the challenge of SDG 16.2, a coalition of international organizations and national governments launched End Violence Against Children in 2016.

End Violence Against Children is focused on building interest and mobilizing resources for a mission that, it argues, has not been a priority for the global community but should be. Violence against children is extremely common, takes many forms (some examples are child marriage, forced labor, sex trafficking, and being victimized by street gangs), and affects them profoundly for the rest of their lives.

“Violence against children erodes the very foundation of stable societies and threatens future sustainable and inclusive economic growth,” the group says. [If this violence does not end] “we risk losing the investments made in child survival, health, and education.”

End Violence Against Children continues by pointing out that 2019 offers three major opportunities to “accelerate more and better action to end violence against children. The backbone of the opportunity is made up of three UN-led moments: the High Level Political Forum (HLPF) assessment of progress against SDG 16 (July 2019), the Heads of Government assessment of progress against all SDGs (September 2019), and the 30th anniversary of the Convention on the Rights of the Child (November 2019).”

End Violence Against Children urges governments to track the resources being allocated specifically to end violence against children. Ultimately, this will enable countries and the global community to identify what works best and scale up those efforts. The organization published "Counting Pennies," a first effort to calculate Official Development Assistance (ODA) spending on projects aimed at ending violence against children. The data is sparse and, as the title indicates, the study concluded that these efforts are currently receiving very little financial support from donors.

End Violence Against Children currently has 26 member countries, including several in the developing world, including Nigeria, the Philippines, South Africa, and Uganda. Its diverse executive committee counts among its members officials from international organizations (e.g., UNICEF), development agencies (e.g., DFID, the U.K. agency for foreign assistance), representatives of wider government (e.g., the governments of Sweden and Canada), and officials from more specialized government entities (e.g., the U.S. Centers for Disease Control).

End Violence Against Children’s other priorities, as it becomes established, include country engagement, equipping practitioners (for example, those working with street children, former child soldiers, child wives, or other groups of vulnerable children), and a Safe to Learn education initiative.

The Convention on the Rights of the Child has more signatories than any other human rights convention. Its 30th anniversary is a chance to take stock of what has been accomplished and formulate plans to make faster progress in the years ahead.

Michele Learner is associate editor with Bread for the World Institute.

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Young girls and men queue separately for cooked rations in Jalala camp. The food has been donated by private citizens as well as the government. Photo: UNHCR/H.Caux

Making Faster Progress on Nutrition with Community Solutions

By Michele Learner

The world has made a great deal of progress against child mortality in the past few decades. But there is much more work to be done. Bread for the World Institute and many others in the anti-hunger movement continue their significant focus on child nutrition because about 3 million young children die of malnutrition-related causes every year.

The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) call for an end to hunger and all forms of malnutrition by 2030. In 2012, the World Health Assembly established six specific nutrition goals:

  • Reduce by 40 percent the global number of children under 5 who are stunted
  • Reduce by 50 percent anemia in women of reproductive age
  • Reduce low birth weight by 30 percent
  • No increase in childhood overweight
  • Reduce childhood wasting to less than 5 percent and maintain that progress
  • Increase the rate of exclusive breastfeeding for six months to 50 percent

At this point, most countries are not on track to meet more than one or two of the goals by the deadline, 2025, and some are not on track to meet any of them. This is why the nutrition community, including Bread, emphasizes the need to “accelerate progress.”

The countries whose children are at greatest risk of malnutrition face a range of challenges. Many are affected by conflict, climate change, or both. Some are considered “low income,” while others are classified as “lower-middle-income,” currently defined as having an average income of more than $2.80, but less than $11, per person per day. Many middle-income countries have extreme income inequality.

It is encouraging that 61 countries and three states in India, all with significant malnutrition rates, have joined the Scaling Up Nutrition (SUN) movement. Countries that join SUN have committed to expanding effective nutrition programs and strategies in order to reach more children at risk.

Nearly 60 years ago, researchers discovered that there is a reliable way to determine whether a young child is acutely malnourished with a single measurement. The circumference of a child’s upper arm—at the midpoint between shoulder and elbow—can be compared to a chart organized according to a child’s age in months. Community health workers use these Mid-Upper Arm Circumference (MUAC) measurements, along with traditional growth charts plotting height and weight, to identify children at risk or already suffering from malnutrition.

Despite successful community health worker programs, however, many children are still diagnosed too late. The earlier a child can begin treatment, the lower the risk of complications or death; the faster his recovery; and the greater likelihood that she can be treated at home. One reason this is important is that caring for a child at home is less likely to interfere with vital income-earning activities.

World Vision and other global direct service providers are refining a strategy that includes mothers in nutrition screening. This, as World Vision puts it, “recognizes the fact that they are best placed to identify early signs of malnutrition and reinforces their role in protecting and promoting their child’s health.”

The concept of training mothers in detecting malnutrition began with the Alliance of International Medical Action, which worked with mothers in Niger to determine whether brief training sessions could enable them to accurately take and interpret MUAC measurements. The mothers performed very well despite the fact that they had very little opportunity to attend school—in Niger, one of the poorest countries in the world, only 23 percent of girls and women ages 15 to 24 are literate. The mothers’ MUAC screening results were comparable to those of community health workers. World Vision began training mothers in Mauritania in 2016, and this proved successful as well.

The mothers use color-coded measuring tapes: green for a normal MUAC reading, yellow for moderate acute malnutrition, and red for severe acute malnutrition. At a cost of 6 cents each, a measuring tape can be made available to each family.

Fortunately, the types of errors made are the least serious type. There were no cases of children who had malnutrition being mistakenly classified as within the normal range. Rather, children with severe malnutrition were mistakenly thought to have moderate malnutrition. This still identified the child as in need of follow-up.

Rather than being screened only once a month by a community health worker, children whose mothers are concerned about their health can be more closely monitored and are more likely to be diagnosed early. World Vision said of its work in Mauritania, “The enthusiasm of girls (i.e. the next generation of mothers) to participate was striking. A future can be envisaged in which mothers in every home where childhood malnutrition is a risk are familiar with and empowered to screen their children.”

Michele Learner is associate editor with Bread for the World Institute.

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The Clothesline Project is a way for individuals affected by domestic violence to convey their emotions through artistically decorating a t-shirt to inform others about the dangers of domestic abuse. Photo: USAF

Domestic Violence Causes Hunger in the United States

By Michele Learner

Domestic violence is common in the United States, crossing lines such as income, education, race, and geographical location. One in three women will endure sexual violence, physical violence, and/or stalking by an intimate partner in her lifetime. In half of all cases where a woman is murdered, her husband, boyfriend, or ex-partner is the perpetrator. Men can also be victims, though this is far less common, and some relationships may be described as mutually abusive. There is a high rate of physical and emotional abuse even in teenage relationships.

The accounts of survivors of domestic violence show that physical, emotional, or sexual abuse tend to take place within a broader context of what researcher Cynthia Hess calls coercive control, ”in which perpetrators combine violence or the threat of violence with actions designed to establish power and control over victims and limit their agency.”

For example: “He would show up at my school and physically remove me from class or lie and say one of my kids is in the hospital. He would also quit his job to make me get another job so I have to drop out of school. He would also delete my homework…” It is not difficult to imagine losing a sense of agency after experiences such as this. Nor is it difficult to see how it could interfere with a woman’s career prospects and earning potential.
Researchers have begun to expand their thinking about domestic violence to include economic abuse, which uses coercive control tactics to restrict the victim’s access to economic resources.

According to the National Network to End Domestic Violence, “Personal safety and economic security are inextricably linked for victims of domestic violence. Financial abuse is a common tactic used by abusers to gain power and control in a relationship.”

There are significant direct economic costs of domestic abuse—for example, medical bills, having to take unpaid time off from work, or loss of productivity. One recent study estimates the lifetime costs at $103,767 per woman.  Another study estimates that, as a group, victims of domestic violence sustain about $67 billion annually in economic losses.

Domestic violence is a main cause of homelessness for women and families, either when women are forced to flee a relationship or when they are evicted from their homes.

Even after a survivor has left the abuser, the National Network says, “The impact of ruined credit scores, sporadic employment histories, and legal issues caused by the violence may make it extremely difficult to pursue long-term economic security while staying safe.”

A survey of domestic violence survivors by the Institute for Women’s Policy Research offers examples of different types of economic harms. The people who responded to the survey came from domestic violence shelters and related programs in 11 states and the District of Columbia.

  • Seventy-three percent of respondents said they had stayed with an abusive partner longer than they wanted, or returned to them, for economic reasons
  • Sixty-six percent said an abusive partner had disrupted their ability to complete education or training
  • Eighty-three percent reported that their abusive partners disrupted their ability to work
  • About three in four (73 percent) said their abusers took money from them
  • Eighty-two percent said their abuser damaged, destroyed, or took their personal property
  • Fifty-nine percent of respondents said they had an abusive partner who harmed their credit score

The survey included enough Latina respondents to analyze how their responses differed from those of non-Latinas. Two examples of these differences are that Latinas were more likely to say that their abuser tried to force them to get or stay pregnant, but less likely to say that they stayed with their partner longer than they wanted to out of concerns about finances.

Policy changes that would help low-wage workers, women, and people of color would also help survivors of domestic violence since they are represented in all these groups. Bread for the World Institute has  recommended many policy improvements, such as raising the minimum wage and the tipped minimum wage, offering paid sick leave, closing the gender pay gap, ensuring access to programs such as SNAP, ensuring that survivors retain eligibility for unemployment insurance, and increasing access to health insurance and quality child care that is affordable. Making improvements in these areas would help survivors of domestic violence even more than others at risk of food insecurity and hunger.  

Michele Learner is associate editor with Bread for the World Institute.

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One in 10 bags of food assistance comes from a charitable organization. Federal nutrition programs provide the rest. Infographic by Doug Puller / Bread for the World

from our Resource Library

For Education

  • Election Resources

    One of the best times to raise the issues of hunger and poverty is during election campaigns. Engage candidates in your state/district on hunger and poverty using our elections resources.
  • U.S. Hunger and Poverty State Fact Sheets

    These fact sheets provide a snapshot of hunger and poverty in the United States and in each state plus Washington, D.C. 

  • Conflict and Fragility Are Hunger Issues

     Conflict is a main driver of the recent increase in hunger around the world and of forced migration. Hunger also contributes to conflict. 

For Faith

  • The Bible on Health as a Hunger Issue

    “As you therefore have received Christ Jesus the Lord, continue to live your lives in him, rooted and built up in him and established in faith.” These words from Colossians 2:6 remind us of the faith that is active in love for our neighbors.

    The Bible on...

  • Unity Declaration on Racism and Poverty

    A diverse body of Christian leaders calls on the churches and Congress to focus on the integral connection.

    Dear Members of Congress,

    As the president and Congress are preparing their plans for this year, almost 100 church leaders—from all the families of U.S. Christianity—are...

  • In Times Like These … A Pan-African Christian Devotional for Public Policy Engagement

    This devotional guide invites deepened relationship with and among Pan-Af­rican people and elected leaders in the mission to end hunger and poverty.

For Advocacy


African at Heart

November 22, 2019


From the Blog