Rageh Omaar: Hungry children deserve better than this

On current trends, this key Millennium Development Goal will not be met
Click to follow
The Independent Online

Each year, autumn and early winter bring an excited flurry in the Omaar household for which we are never as prepared as we wish we would be. It is the time when we have to prepare for the birthdays of my daughter and eldest son. Every year, I fret about trying to be at home for the birthday parties, wondering what presents we should get them and making sure they appreciate that it's not all about material things.

I try my best to be there for my children's birthdays, but all too often my job has taken me away, a job that transports me not just to another place but to a completely different world of experience. It's a world in which nearly nine million children die before their fifth birthday each year – that is almost one child every three seconds. Think about it: that's one child before you even get to the end of this sentence.

Nearly all of these children die in the kinds of countries I've spent most of my working life – poor, conflict-prone, often subject to drought or natural disasters. And nearly all of them die from preventable causes.

Children like three-year-old Yusuf, whom I met in the country of my birth, Somalia. I met him in a makeshift clinic and feeding centre in the remote village of Dinsor about 150 miles west of Mogadishu. He was sick and suffering painfully from malaria. His body, already too weak from undernourishment, was trying to resist the fever with the help of the clinic's tiny supply of drugs.

Hard as it seems to believe, Yusuf was lucky. He had managed to get to a clinic – rare, indeed, in this part of the country. So was 10-month-old Solomon, whom I met in Tigray province in northern Ethiopia. When I first met him, he was dying from a multitude of easily treatable conditions. Four months later, I discovered that he had survived only because he too managed to get the kind of medical help that we take for granted in this country.

Yet the truth is that whilst such individual episodes are shocking, the spectre of widespread child deaths has somehow lost the power to shock. We have come to tolerate it, because we feel that's just the way it is. We don't need a major technological breakthrough to solve world poverty entirely. But we do need a modest investment; up to £25bn every year – roughly half of what the world spends on bottled water – to plough back into measures like better healthcare and better nutrition for kids and mums. Some of the life-saving solutions are so well-known that it seems almost pitiful to list them: breastfeeding babies, for example, remains key. Other simple solutions are newer, based on our growing knowledge of how to save children's lives – cheap zinc supplements, for example, can curb diarrhoea, one of the biggest killers of children under five.

But to do all of this, we need the political will to deliver it. World leaders agreed Millennium Development Goal 4 back in 2000, when they committed themselves to cutting deaths of young children by two-thirds by 2015. On current trends, that target is nowhere near being met. To spur governments in the developing world to deliver policies which save children's lives, and wealthy nations to invest, we all need to play a part.

Rageh Omaar is a Global Ambassador for Save the Children www.savethechildren.org.uk