August 10, 2012 | By Roger Thurow

The Games and Hunger – True Inspiration

The London Summer Olympics have been chock full of wondrous achievements and inspiring moments: Michael Phelps, Usain Bolt, Sarah Attar, Oscar Pistorius, an impressive roster of African athletes rising from deep poverty to the medal platform.  Just imagine the journey from Somalia or Sudan to a stadium filled with 80,000 people, flashbulbs sparkling like stars.  Amazing.

But the most inspiring, significant moment of all may still await us.  On Sunday, as the sporting competition winds down and the athletes gather for the Closing Ceremony and the torch passes from London to Rio de Janeiro, another competition will be joined.  It is the push to make a huge dent in hunger and childhood malnutrition before the next Opening Ceremony in Rio in 2016.

UK Prime Minister David Cameron and Brazil Vice President Michel Temer will host the Global Hunger Event and challenge the world’s leaders – and all citizens, really – to accelerate efforts to improve nutrition and reduce the rate of stunting among the planet’s poorest children in the next four years.  The unofficial Olympic event – with its Olympian ambitions – aims to identify innovative ways to tackle malnutrition and create new champions to spur a global movement.

Until the book “The Hunger Games”, those two words – “hunger” and “games” — rarely appeared in the same sentence.  Together, they form an oxymoron.  Hunger, as we know, certainly isn’t a game.  Now, on Sunday, we’ll have those words sharing a phrase again: The Hunger Summit of the Olympic Games.

It ought to be a natural combination, the Games and Hunger.  I covered 10 Olympics – 5 Summer and 5 Winter — for The Wall Street Journal, and I wrote many stories on how the noble ideals of supreme human endeavor and fair play were often soiled by a venal self-interest and tawdry commercialism surrounding the Games.  Now, though I am far from the fields of play in London, it is good to be able to write the words “Olympics” and “ending hunger” in the same sentence.  Well done to the prime minister for convening the summit, and to athletes such as soccer star David Beckham and Mo Farah, the Somalia-born British long-distance runner who won a gold medal in London, for participating.  The International Olympic Committee and the organizing committees of each set of Games should take note and also join the movement to raise the clamor and end hunger.

For conquering malnutrition and stunting should be the very essence of the Olympic movement, giving every child the chance to fulfill his or her potential, physically and mentally.  With some 200 million children stunted from insufficient nutrition during the early years of their lives, who knows how many Olympic moments have never materialized?  The damage that malnutrition in the first 1,000 days does to a child’s brain and body can’t be undone in later years.  It is fine for the Olympics to rattle on about “faster, higher, stronger,” but they are hollow words for far too many who can’t even get to the starting block.  Where’s the fair play in that?

Hopefully, we’ll see some truly Olympian traits emerge from the Global Hunger Event.  Traits like vision, dedication, ambition, urgency, momentum and focus.  These should also apply to the quest for global food security; the Olympics have been unfolding against a backdrop of worsening global malnutrition, severe droughts in several parts of the world, dwindling food stockpiles and rising food prices.

Hopefully, the summit won’t be a one-off talk fest, a performance that appears every four years and then falls from view, like some of the sports that only capture our attention during the Olympics.  Hopefully, the UK government can keep the focus on hunger and malnutrition through next year’s G8 meeting that it will host, and beyond.  Hopefully, the Brazilians can keep hunger and malnutrition a top priority of the G20 nations.  Focus, focus, focus – the mantra of every world-class athlete.

Athletes are also all about momentum, and there has been plenty of momentum building in the fight against malnutrition.  The Scaling Up Nutrition and the 1,000 Days movements, the G8’s recently launched New Alliance on Food Security and Nutrition, President Obama’s Feed the Future initiative, ONE’s THRIVE campaign and the expanding efforts of a number of humanitarian organizations to end hunger through agricultural development, the World Health Assembly’s new target to reduce the number of stunted children by 40% by 2025.  Keep it going, don’t let up.

Finally, every Olympian – and every Olympic Games – desires to leave a shining legacy.  One motto of London is: “Inspire a Generation.”  That’s wonderful.  But let’s not leave the inspiration solely in the athletic realm and the scope of individual growth and success.  The Olympic Global Hunger Event can inspire a generation to achievements bigger than themselves.

Faster, higher, stronger not for one, but for all.


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The latest podcast in our ongoing series with Roger Thurow. Hear how even the best nutrition projects can be undermined by bad water, poor sanitation and hygiene, and lousy infrastructure.  From northern Uganda, we hear a mother’s agony when her healthy, robust child suddenly falls ill after a few sips of water…unclean water, it turned out.

Roger Thurow on SDG 2.2

Roger Thurow sat down with Farming First to talk about the individual and societal consequences of malnutrition. 




Digital Preview of The First 1,000 Days

In his new book, The First 1,000 Days, Council senior fellow Roger Thurow illuminates the 1,000 Days initiative to end early childhood malnutrition through the compelling stories of new mothers in Uganda, India, Guatemala, and Chicago. Get a first-look at photos and stories from the book in this new web interactive.

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» Order your copy of the book.


The First 1,000 Days

Roger Thurow’s book will tell the story of the vital importance of proper nutrition and health care in the 1,000 days window from the beginning of a woman’s pregnancy to her child’s second birthday.

The 1,000 days period is the crucial period of development, when malnutrition can have severe life-long impacts on the individual, the family and society as a whole. Nutritional deficiencies that occur during this time are often overlooked, resulting in a hidden hunger. It is a problem of great human and economic dimensions, impacting rich and poor countries alike.

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The Last Hunger Season

In The Last Hunger Season, the intimate dramas of the farmers' lives unfold amidst growing awareness that to feed the world's growing population, food production must double by 2050. How will the farmers, Africa, and a hungrier world deal with issues of water usage, land ownership, foreign investment, corruption, GMO's, the changing role of women, and the politics of foreign aid?

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Roger Thurow and Scott Kilman, award-winning writers on Africa, development, and agriculture, see famine as the result of bad policies spanning the political spectrum. In this compelling investigative narrative, they explain through vivid human stories how the agricultural revolutions that transformed Asia and Latin America stopped short in Africa, and how our sometimes well-intentioned strategies—alternating with ignorance and neglect—have conspired to keep the world’s poorest people hungry and unable to feed themselves.

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