By Sarah Goellner
DES MOINES — Jim Yong Kim grew up in a small town in rural Iowa. Growing up, he could not have known that his life would lead him to become president of the World Bank Group and an advocate for eliminating childhood stunting and malnutrition.
Childhood stunting, failing to reach growth potential and mental capacity as a result of poor nutrition and health conditions, Kim said, affects 156 million children under the age of five worldwide.
Hunger, however, is not the only issue that children face. A lack of pre-primary education and the exposure to toxic environments are also elements that contribute to stunting in children.
The world knows and understands what is happening, Kim said. “This is one of the great moral issues of our time.”
In Peru, the World Bank Group sucessfully reduced stunting in the country by 50 percent in 10 years by launching an incentive-based conditional cash transfer program. This program works directly with the mothers of at-risk children. The mothers have to meet conditions regarding health and nutrition, such as attending World Bank sponsored pre-natal care, in order to receive their cash transfer.
He admitted that the World Bank was hesitant at first to fund this program in Peru, but the results were undeniable. Kim argued that this concept could be applied to virtually every region that is effected by childhood poverty. Smart policies, scientific innovation and political will are key elements that the World Bank feels can combat and eliminate physical and mental stunting in children around the world, Kim said.
Kim draws from Norman Borlaug, 1970 Nobel Peace Prize winner, in many aspects of this work. “We all need to have a sense of urgency about the problems surrounding us in the world.”