Globally, malnutrition is the key cause of the deaths of 2.6 million children each year. On present trends, the bodies and brains of an additional 450 million worldwide will fail to develop properly because of inadequate diet over the next 15 years, according to a report published by Save the Children.
Olinda Novela and her children will dine on tree root soup. This is what they ate for breakfast, and what they will likely eat tomorrow. The soup, made from mashed wood shavings boiled in salty water, has zero nutritional value. It is a thin, brown, evil-looking gruel. But in remote, drought-stricken Mahache village, about five hours' drive north from Mozambique's capital, Maputo, there is simply no other choice.
They are not actually starving – not yet, anyway – but they are chronically malnourished, according to visiting community health workers. They have much in common with many other Mozambican children, with an estimated 44% of under-fives physically or mentally impaired – the technical term is stunted – because of severe malnutrition. Their weakened immune systems increase their susceptibility to malaria, HIV, and other fatal diseases.
Experts predict that in the next decade there will be 4 million chronically malnourished children in Mozambique, which despite recent, rapid economic growth and the discovery of large natural gas deposits remains one of the world's poorest countries.
"Malnutrition is a hidden problem, a hidden killer," said Carina Hassane Ismael of the independent Food Security and Nutrition Association in Maputo. "It's not like a famine. It can be hard to spot because the children are not actually starving."
At the Camp David G-8 meeting beginning Obama will unveil a "new alliance" initiative involving selected African countries and private sector companies. The plan entails a $1bn, 10-year effort to lift 50 million people out of food poverty through increased investment in agricultural development.
"The G8 is always making plans but they don't implement them," said Rafael Uaiene, assistant professor of international development with Michigan State University, who is based in Maputo, and is a former director of Mozambique's National Agricultural Research Institute. "The trouble is, millions of dollars are committed but they never reach the ground in most cases."
G8's L'Aquila summit in 2009, which saw $6bn in new money pledged for food security and agricultural initiatives over three years. By last July, only 22% of the money had been spent.