First Asia-Pacific UN Zero Hunger Challenge launched in Timor-Leste

Graced by the presence of Her Royal Highness, Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn of Thailand, the Prime Minister of Timor-Leste, Mr. Kay Rala Xanana Gusmão today launched the first national Zero Hunger Challenge in Asia and the Pacific.

The launch was made with the support of the United Nations Resident Coordinator and the United Nations Country team of Timor–Leste, under the leadership of the Special Advisor to the Secretary-General of the United Nations for Timor-Leste, and with the technical coordination of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO).

The Zero Hunger Challenge was initiated by United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon in 2012. The Challenge aims to create a future in which all people enjoy their fundamental right to food, and where livelihoods and food systems are resilient enough to withstand multiple shocks, including the impacts of global climate change.

Asia and the Pacific saw the regional launch of the Zero Hunger Challenge at ESCAP’s 69th Commission session, in April 2013. Timor-Leste is the first country in the region to pilot the creation of a national action plan for this initiative.

“Hunger is an unforgivable development failure,” explained Dr. Noeleen Heyzer, Under-Secretary-General of the United Nations, Executive Secretary of ESCAP and Special Adviser to the Secretary General of the United Nations for Timor-Leste, in her opening remarks at the National Parliament today.

“It is the single greatest obstacle to creating the inclusive, sustainable, and resilient future we want for all the people of Asia and the Pacific. Working together, hunger can be beaten and the developing countries of Asia and the Pacific, with the support of our development partners, are taking the lead in making hunger history.”

The Asia-Pacific region has made good progress in reducing the proportion of the population suffering from chronic hunger – which has declined from more than 24 per cent in 1990-92 to 13.5 per cent in 2011-13. The region is, however, still home to more than 553 million undernourished people. In hotspots such as South and South-West Asia, underweight children still comprise more than 34 per cent of all children.

“As the Secretary-General’s Special Adviser for Timor-Leste, I am very pleased and proud that the first national launch of the Zero Hunger Challenge campaign in Asia and the Pacific is being hosted here today in Dili,” said Dr. Heyzer. “It is another demonstration of the Government’s commitment to addressing the urgent and very real challenges of hunger in Timor-Leste.”

According to the preliminary results of a new study on malnutrition in Timor-Leste, malnutrition rates have been significantly reduced from about 44.7% in 2010 to 38.1% in 2013, with chronic malnutrition in children younger than 23 months reduced from 49% to 38% in the same period. Much work remains however, as more than 50% of Timorese under-five children (or almost 100,000 children) are still stunted according to UNICEF.

“The launch today of the Zero Hunger Challenge in Timor-Leste will be part of building on the progress which has already been made, and accelerating food and nutrition security, especially for women, children and the poorest Timorese communities,” said Dr. Heyzer. “Global strategies need to be translated into effective actions, adapted to the situation of each country. The United Nations Country Team in Timor-Leste will support the efforts of the Government in this area, proposing interventions and policies which address immediate and underlying causes of malnutrition and food insecurity.”