This past month, stories of malnourished children and undernutrition statistics have dominated social media and media outlets across the North and particularly West (USA, Canada, UK, France) of the world. Many of the facts are shocking, many of the stories hounding and these are followed up by mass marches and events. Faith based organisations have asked their congregations to fast, campaigning NGOs have filled the print media with calls to action and celebrities have rallied behind the UK based IF campaign.
Why now? And what has it all achieved?
Undernutrition is one of the most common diseases amongst the poor. It causes or increases the chance of death, particularly amongst children, by weakening the individual both in the short term and over longer time frames. It can reduce concentration levels; hinder the development of the brain; stunt their growth; open them up to other diseases; and ultimately reduce their economic potential. Aid has long used pictures of starving or wasting people to educate the public on what it means to be poor. Yet we allow this disease to continue.
On Saturday 8 June, the UK, Brazil and the Children Investment Fund Foundation (CIFF) co-hosted the Nutrition for Growth meeting. Not a summit, nor a conference, but with a key focus on new pledges: both monetary and non-monetary. The commitments have now been released in full. It’s an impressive list comprising NGO promises, funds from donors and commitments to country plans by developing country governments. The plans were established with the support of the Scaling Up Nutrition (SUN) network by developing countries themselves.
One of the most credible and exciting initiatives – in my humble opinion – is L’initiative 3N or ‘les Nigériens Nourrissent les Nigériens’. The story is that a group of politicians placed nutrition, or the country’s lack thereof, at the top of the political agenda during the previous election. Even when they did not win power, the President of Niger accepted the challenge and set up a new body or department at the centre of his government to guarantee that nutrition was considered during every policy decision to ensure that the fight to end undernutrition in Niger was not derailed.
Building up to the Nutrition for Growth there was a plethora of – extremely interesting – reports published. These include Save’s Food for Thought, UNICEF’s Improving Child Nutrition, ACF’s Aid for Nutrition, UK’s APPG on Agriculture and Food for Development’s ‘Home Grown Nutrition, Development Initiatives’s The Aid Financing Landscape for Nutrition and Christian Aid’s Who Pays the Price?. The Institute of Development studies created a new index – HANCI – which plots the political commitment of countries to tackling hunger and (separately) under-nutrition. On 4 June, the week before the event, they published the donor country index. This index charts which donors are the most committed to tackling these issues based on much more than aid. Policy coherence has been a bit of a buzzword this year and Lawrence Haddad uses this approach to compare donor countries with one another across the board i.e. including trade agreements, agricultural policies, and tariffs on food. The UK came out top of the list, despite being only the 4th largest funder of nutrition projects.
Most significantly is the new series from the Lancet: Maternal and Child Nutrition – June 2013. The 2008 Lancet series has been the guiding light for many nutritionists around the world. But now we have a new set of papers to wade through, new statistics, new ideas and new policy suggestions. As a re-evaluation of the conclusions of the previous series it adds insight to how implementation has progressed, but it also identifies ‘the unfinished agenda for nutrition’. It may not be for another 2-3 years before we see or hear about the impact of the new series. But with some 70 specialists and over 14 months of work behind it – I’m fairly certain it’s worth at least a skim read. Here is the executive summary.
The final string to this year’s nutrition focus is the US Food Aid reform bill, but that’s another Pandora’s box . . .