Developing strategies to end hunger
 

125 posts categorized "Food Aid"

The Hidden SDG

Egypt_making_bread  for June 26 blog

 Photo courtesy of Bradipus/Creative Commons

By Steve Damiano

The fight to end hunger depends on the fight to find people living with hunger. 

At the Financing for Development Conference in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, in July, the international community will pledge money to achieve the new Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which succeed the Millennium Development Goals. Countries will likely commit to ending hunger and malnutrition by 2030 as part of the second SDG. But to end hunger and malnutrition, the world will first have to accomplish a more hidden SDG. Goal 17 (under its target 18) calls on donors by 2020 to increase the capacity of the least developed countries and small island states to collect timely and reliable data on all socioeconomic groups. 

The FAO estimates that the world had 795 million food insecure individuals in 2014. Yet among developing countries, many governments lack the income data needed to provide targeted food assistance, largely because the countries have large informal sectors and weak tax systems. Instead, these governments rely on national household expenditure and consumption surveys, which allow them to measure whether households are poor and food insecure based on how much money they spend and the quality and quantity of food they consume.

Just as Bread for the World Institute recently showed that most of the data needed to advance gender equality is missing, Smith et al discovered that a significant amount of data on household food security is absent. They found that only half of all national household expenditure and consumption surveys have the data needed to determine if households receive enough calories or are undernourished. Even worse, the problem goes beyond not collecting the specific information needed to not collecting information at all:  the percentage of developing countries that had conducted recent household surveys ranged from 39 percent of countries in the Middle East and North Africa to 85 percent in sub-Saharan Africa. 

We can see why good data is needed by looking at food subsidies in Egypt and Iran. Both countries have a history of providing bread subsidies to reduce hunger. Both countries also carry out household surveys to measure the economic well-being of their populations. Yet only Egypt asks questions related to household food security as Iran focuses more on household expenditures.

In 2014 and 2010, Egypt and Iran respectively began reforming their food subsidy programs to try to better target poor families. Egypt started limiting the number of subsidized bread loaves individuals could buy to reduce price speculation and began giving people smart cards rather than a monthly food basket so they could buy more nutritious foods. Iran sought to replace its bread subsidies with cash transfers to poor households, but the government lacked the data to identify poor households. In the end, it gave the cash transfer to the entire population. But this was too expensive to sustain. In 2014, the Iranian government resorted to handing out food directly to people in need, sparking national outrage as Iranians waited for hours in lines outside food distribution centers. While Iran has used its oil wealth to achieve lower hunger rates than Egypt, the Egyptian government has collected the data needed to ensure that its limited resources go as far as possible in reducing hunger.

Steve Damiano is a Crook Fellow with Bread for the World Institute this summer. He recently earned master's degrees from the University of Texas at Austin in both Global Policy Studies and Middle Eastern Studies. Aid effectiveness is one of Steve's areas of interest.

Vizathon Tackles Hidden Hunger from Both Coasts

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By Derek Schwabe

This past Saturday, Bread for the World Institute held our first-ever bi-coastal (and second annual) vizathon to expose hidden hunger. The event, held at Bread’s offices in Washington, DC, and the offices of Macys.com in downtown San Francisco, brought together a diverse group of volunteer data heroes (statisticians, web developers, coders, designers, and data geeks) who gave their time, skills, and creative energy to help us visualize a widespread and growing kind of hunger: hidden hunger. We teamed up with the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI), who shared a rich new dataset that helped our volunteers tackle the issue from all sides. We were grateful to have two fantastic data facilitators who led the charge -- Jon Schwabish of HelpMeViz on the East Coast and Leigh Fonseca of LivingData on the West Coast. Here’s a storify-style recap of our exciting day of data storytelling:  

Two Full Rooms Took on Two Forms of Hidden Hunger

Challenge 1, De-Mystifying Micronutrient Deficiency: Micronutrient deficiency harms one in two preschool-aged children worldwide, yet it’s impossible to detect by looking at a child. How can we make the damage caused by micronutrient deficiency visible?  

Challenge 2, The Coming Obesity Pandemic: Obesity is hunger for the right kinds of food. In the developing world, we’ve seen steady progress against traditional forms of hunger, but obesity is rising rapidly. With it comes a proliferation of deadly non-communicable diseases. All too often, these don’t have treatments that are 100 percent effective, even in developed countries (e.g., heart disease, stroke). Poorer countries certainly do not have the resources to treat large numbers of patients with these conditions. Help us tell this urgent story.

Getting Started: A Deluge of Data

IFPRI introduced a dataset with household-level information relevant to both data challenges. Sara Signorelli of HarvestChoice, a project led by IFPRI, oriented the Washington, DC and San Francisco teams to available indicators such as those on micronutrient deficiency, dietary diversity, obesity, and body mass. The dataset was specific to Africa South of the Sahara. Signorelli pointed participants to HarvestChoice’s Mappr tool—a nutrition and agriculture data mapping app that lets users isolate specific indicators, years, locations, or groups. HarvestChoice also supplied even more granular datasets on Ethiopia and Malawi. The “vizathoners” had no shortage of data to sift through, but the real challenge was pulling out a story.

The Coasts Connect

By the time the San Francisco team was ready to jump into the data, the Washington, DC, group had already been working with it long enough to begin to notice trends, gaps, and roadblocks. We took advantage of the three-hour time-zone difference to give the two teams a chance to connect and learn from each other. Using Google HangOut, participants in Washington, DC, communicated their most salient findings -- and in some cases, vented their frustrations -- to San Francisco. Twitter was also a cross-coastal communication channel of choice.  

Visualizing Answers...and more Questions

Once both teams had a few hours to explore the data, visualizations started to surface, highlighting fascinating trends and raising many new questions. Here’s a smattering of some of them:

What’s Next?

The discoveries made and questions raised by vizathon volunteers will not be left alone. In the coming weeks, the Institute, IFPRI, and a smaller group of volunteers will process the day’s findings and start digging deeper. We’re excited to create opportunities for the teams to continue their work, which will (we hope) lead to visualization tools that will make hidden hunger impossible to miss. Stay tuned.  

Further Reading

Check out HelpMeViz.com to see more work by vizathon participants, dig into visualizations in greater detail, or even play around with the data yourself. And be sure to read this post by my colleague, Robin Stephenson, in which she recaps the vizathon from her own first-time perspective and introduces us to some of the incredible participants!

Derek Schwabe

Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation Announces New Nutrition Strategy

Melinda Gates announced a new foundation pledge of $776 million over a six-year period to fight malnutrition. Gates made the announcement June 3 at the European Development Days forum on development and international cooperation. 

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Photo Credit: 1000 Days "Investing in Nutrition: A Golden Opportunity"

Gates said that efforts to end malnutrition are underfunded, adding, “I know of no other problem in the world that does so much damage yet receives so little attention.”

Malnutrition is the underlying cause of almost half of all preventable deaths of children younger than 5. Many millions more who survive—one in four of the world’s children—are stunted, meaning that early childhood malnutrition has permanently damaged their physical and cognitive development.

The 2015-2020 Gates Nutrition Strategy centers around five initiatives: country impact; new solutions; food systems; data, analytics, and evidence; and advocacy, policy, and alignment. The efforts will include reaching more women, young children, adolescent girls, and others at risk with proven solutions such as breastfeeding and food fortification, improving food systems so that people have better access to nutritious and affordable food, and support a data revolution in nutrition to strengthen the evidence for nutrition actions and track progress.

The Gates Foundation will focus its efforts on five countries that have both high rates of child malnutrition and significant opportunities to make improvements: India, Bangladesh, Ethiopia, Nigeria, and Burkina Faso. 

Gates called on European donors to continue to support maternal/child nutrition efforts, particularly at the upcoming Financing for Development conference, to be held in Addis Ababa in July, and at the U.N. General Assembly in September, where global leaders will be finalizing targets and financial commitments for the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The SDGs will set the global development agenda through 2030, including targets for reducing malnutrition and child mortality. The SDGs succeed the Millennium Development Goals (September 2000-December 2015).

Scott Bleggi
 

167 Million Fewer Hungry People in the World, But Sustained Funding Is Still Needed

The number of hungry people in the world has dropped below 800 million for the first time, according to this year’s State of Food Insecurity in the World (SOFI) report, released today. The report, authored by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, the International Fund for Agricultural Development, and the World Food Program, takes stock of the progress being made toward global hunger goals.

SOFI_2015The report identifies what still needs to be done as the world transitions to the post-2015 Sustainable Development Goals, which will follow the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) when they sunset this year. In 1996, 182 countries at the World Food Summit committed “… to eradicate hunger in all countries, with an immediate view to reducing the number of undernourished people to half their present level no later than 2015.” The first of eight MDGs, all adopted in 2000, encapsulates this commitment, including the target “cutting in half the proportion of people who suffer from hunger by the year 2015.”

So how is the world doing?

The report reviews progress for every country and region. The news is good overall -- improvements outweighed setbacks. But as can be expected with such a broad and ambitious worldwide goal, problem areas remain, and in some regions hunger is still a stubborn problem.

Twenty-five years ago there were a billion hungry people. According to the new SOFI report, this number has now dropped to 795 million. The countries that improved the most had two features in common: strong economic growth that included investments in poor people, agriculture, and food production; and relative political stability. These countries were largely in East Asia and Latin America and the Caribbean. A solid majority of countries (72 of 129) have met the ambitious target of cutting hunger in half.

These are certainly impressive achievements. Consider that natural disasters, civil and regional conflict, and weak governments can damage to poor countries disproportionately. Also, the world population has grown rapidly: it is higher by 1.9 billion people than it was in 1990. Predictions of widespread famine have for the most part not come true, but certainly there have been famines, such as the 2011 one in Somalia that killed at least 100,000 children younger than 5.

Sub-Saharan Africa’s hunger rate is still more than 33 percent, and more African countries (24) are experiencing food insecurity now than in 1990. Hunger rates in countries with continuing crises are more than three times higher than elsewhere, according to SOFI. In Africa and South Asia, “progress has been slow overall, despite success stories at country and sub-regional levels … there is no one size fits all solution.”

This is why sustaining the development work being done in USAID’s flagship hunger and poverty reduction initiative, Feed the Future, is so important. Feed the Future’s focus areas were developed specifically to sustainably reduce global poverty and hunger. It has demonstrated progress in “significantly reduc[ing] both poverty and stunting (a measure of chronic food insecurity)” in countries where it operates, and adequate funding is essential so this progress can continue.    

Scott Bleggi

Sad Statistics for the United States on Maternal Mortality

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As a policy analyst, my life revolves around data related to hunger, poverty and nutrition of mothers and their children. Statistics are the tool of my trade. I use them to report, to convey information, and often to advocate on issues. A few stay with me: 805 million hungry people in the world (one person in nine); 165 million stunted children who will never reach their full potential in life.

In my research for the Institute’s series celebrating Women’s History Month, I came across another statistic that will stay with me for a long time. A study by the respected British medical journal The Lancet found that the United States is one of only eight countries where maternal mortality (death from complications of pregnancy or childbirth) is on the rise. The other countries are Afghanistan, Greece, and several countries in Africa and Central America.

In this country, 18.5 mothers died for every 100,000 births in 2013—almost 800 women died here that year alone. This is double the rate of Canada and triple the rate of the United Kingdom! What is going on here? How is it that women in the United States are dying at a faster rate from causes related to pregnancy and childbirth than in almost any other place in the developed world?

There seem to be several contributing factors. Some of the reported rise in mortality is likely due to more rigorous data collection; the United States is one country where data on almost anything is readily available. Another factor is the rise in the number of pregnant women here who have conditions—such as hypertension and diabetes—that contribute to making their pregnancies “high risk.” More girls with heart or neurological diseases are surviving to adulthood—good news, but they remain at higher risk during pregnancy and childbirth.

Perhaps the most shocking statistic is that American women of color – particularly African Americans -- are three times more likely to die as a result of pregnancy or giving birth than their white counterparts. Higher poverty rates, which carry numerous consequences such as more chronic health problems and less access to prenatal care, are a major reason that women of color in our country run much higher risks in becoming mothers. 

There is a parallel between efforts to end maternal mortality and efforts to end global hunger. We know that a lack of available food is not the problem. It is getting access to nutritious food — a particular problem for pregnant women and children – that is a major problem. Affording food and reaching a place where it is available pose the biggest challenges. Researchers have found the same to be true in efforts to end maternal mortality -- particularly during or shortly after childbirth. The major problems are affordability and access to skilled care. This is true in the United States as in many developing countries.

The situation is even worse in “fragile states,” developing countries suffering armed conflict or civil war while also confronting high rates of food insecurity. 

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Mothers and small children line up at a health clinic. Credit: UN

In its State of the World’s Mothers 2014 (SOWM) report, the international organization Save the Children says: “These countries and territories (more than 50 in number) lack resilience to emergencies and face chronic underlying challenges, including extreme poverty, weak infrastructure, and poor governance. In these settings, children and mothers face an everyday emergency, whether or not a humanitarian crisis is officially recognized by the international system.”

During this Women’s History Month, I encourage you to read Save’s SOWM report and take a look at the statistics on maternal mortality compiled by the World Bank and the United Nations World Health Organization. As a result of a concerted effort by governments, international donors, and civil society, we are making remarkable progress toward the goal of ending hunger.  Much less progress has been made toward the fifth Millennium Development Goal of reducing maternal mortality by three-fourths. An equally concerted and collaborative effort, accompanied by sustained funding for healthcare programs in the United States and overseas, particularly in fragile states, is needed to help women survive as they secure humanity’s future by bearing children.

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Celebrating the Tenure of USAID Administrator Rajiv Shah

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Dr. Rajiv Shah welcomes guests to the launch of Bread for the World Institute's 2011 Hunger Report in November, 2010. (Laura Elizabeth Pohl/Bread for the World)


Dr. Rajiv Shah will be departing USAID (the U.S. Agency for International Development) this week. His appointment as USAID Administrator came in the wake of Haiti’s devastating earthquake in early 2010, just as famine was hitting South Sudan and at a time of continued powerful aftershocks from the global food price crisis. USAID sets and implements the U.S. government’s development and emergency food aid policies, and its employees staff U.S. Missions in countries around the world where hunger and poverty are endemic. In addition to managing a series of crises, Dr. Shah also set out to revitalize an agency that had long been criticized for being overly bureaucratic and dependent on large U.S. implementing partner organizations to carry out many of its programs.

We will remember Dr. Shah’s time at USAID for his passionate commitment to and impatience in the fight to end hunger and malnutrition. In five years, remarkable progress has been made against food insecurity and malnutrition, and U.S. leadership has played an important role. In 2010, Dr. Shah created the Bureau for Food Security at USAID to implement Feed the Future, the U.S. global food security initiative. Under his leadership, USAID also developed the first-ever Multisectoral Global Nutrition Strategy, which will improve coordination across the agency’s bureaus and programs and, most importantly, the effectiveness of U.S. investments in nutrition. 

In addition, President Obama and Administrator Shah have been relentless advocates at the global level for greater and smarter investments in agriculture, food security, and nutrition. They secured new commitments of resources from other countries, multilateral institutions, and the private sector. Dr. Shah served on the Lead Group of the Scaling Up Nutrition (SUN) movement, helping to provide strategic direction as SUN was getting off the ground. At the country level, USAID has been a key SUN partner. Today, SUN, whose members at last count are 54 countries with high rates of childhood stunting, has begun to change national policies and commit funding to fight malnutrition.

We also remember Dr. Shah’s time at USAID for increasing attention to strengthening local capacity and institutions, including recognizing the key role of local civil society. David Beckmann, president of Bread for the World, is a member of USAID’s Advisory Committee on Voluntary Foreign Aid, designed to give policy guidance directly to the Administrator, and was honored to participate in an ACVFA working group that developed a paper on local capacity development. Beckmann later co-chaired the ACVFA task force on strengthening Feed the Future’s collaborations with civil society. Reflecting on Shah’s tenure, Beckmann said, “I thank God for Raj Shah’s outstanding leadership. USAID’s increased effectiveness is making a difference in the lives of millions of people, and it has set the stage for bipartisan collaboration in the U.S. Congress on international development issues. ”

We were honored by Dr. Shah’s presence at important moments for Bread for the World. At Bread’s 2011 Hunger Report launch, Dr. Shah called the report, Our Common Interest: Ending Hunger and Malnutrition,
“the best statement [he’s] read about the importance of Feed the Future to U.S. efforts to combat global hunger and malnutrition.”  He announced the establishment of the Bureau of Food Security at the launch. Dr. Shah was also the keynote speaker at Bread’s 2012 Gala to End Hunger.

He addressed Bread for the World members, representatives of international civil society, and global nutrition stakeholders at the 2013 Sustaining Political Commitments to Scaling Up Nutrition event in Washington, DC. It was here that he announced USAID’s plan for a Global Nutrition Strategy.

Dr. Shah’s individual accomplishments, and USAID’s accomplishments during his tenure, are too numerous to list. Under his leadership the agency prospered. Bread for the World developed closer working relationships with key management and program staff. He has set the bar very high for his successor and has put in place strategies and programs that assure continued U.S. government leadership in the global fight to end hunger and extreme poverty. We at Bread for the World wish Dr. Shah continued success in all his endeavors and look forward to working with the next USAID Administrator.

Scott Bleggi

The President's Budget a Mixed Bag on Food Security and Nutrition

President Obama released his final budget on Monday, February 2, 2015. As was reported by Bread for the World in a press release, the budget invests in people as a key to sustained economic recovery. It includes increased funding for maternal, newborn and child health, and it prioritizes early childhood care and education.

The budget can be lauded for these important domestic funding initiatives, but it is more of a mixed bag in addressing international food and nutrition security. It requests a $14 million reduction from Fiscal year 2015 enacted funding levels in nutrition spending, which is allocated to USAID’s Global Health Bureau.  This is disappointing given worldwide recognition of nutrition’s role across development sectors, and global momentum to improve nutrition policies and programs, especially those focused in the 1,000 days ‘window of opportunity’ from a women’s pregnancy to her child’s second birthday.  Investments here are among the smartest that can be made, with long-term health, social and economic benefits accruing to both individuals and countries themselves.

The International Affairs (150) account in the budget, which funds overseas operations, counterterrorism efforts, humanitarian relief and development assistance is again less than 1% of the total.  At $54.8 billion it does enjoy a small (2.4%) increase over the previous year’s funding but is still many billions below what was spent as recently as the year 2010.

As was reported by the World Food Program, “…humanitarian aid programs were among those that got hit the hardest by budget cuts. Overall humanitarian accounts went down by 13%. International Disaster Assistance was cut by $154 million. Food Aid was cut by $66 million.”  All this during times of historic demand for global assistance. To say that USAID and its implementing partners are stretched thin is an understatement. In fact, according to the Famine Early Warning System web site, there are eight “areas of concern” – Central African Republic, Central America and the Caribbean, Mauritania, Nigeria, Senegal, Sierra Leone, South Sudan and Yemen – that are being watched closely.  Any of these countries or regions can easily slip into food insecurity, requiring additional funding.  Save the Children reported it was “concerned with the funding levels for humanitarian assistance”.

The President’s budget builds on the Administration’s efforts to increase access to early childhood care and education for U.S. children from birth to age five. But at the same time it proposes cuts in disaster assistance, food aid and nutrition, cuts which paradoxically, could have a devastating effect on children from birth to age five overseas in countries where help is most needed.

The President’s budget has been presented to Congress, which will likely now develop a budget of its own.  If the final budget is approved with additional cuts to the 150 Account and any new global humanitarian conflicts arise, a very tight funding scenario could turn disastrous.

The advocacy community will surely be focused with Congress on restoring funding to this critical account.  And surely Congress can find ways to not have the most vulnerable population overseas – women and children - bear a disproportionate amount of cuts in a budget of $4,000,000,000,000.

Scott Bleggi

Three Charts, Three Reasons Empowered Women and Progress on Malnutrition Go Hand in Hand

Improvements in the status of women drove about half of the dramatic reduction in child malnutrition that the developing world has achieved in recent decades. This and many more pieces of evidence brought together in the 2015 Hunger Report affirm that ending discrimination against women and girls–besides being the right thing to do–is crucial to ending hunger. Here are three compelling charts that show how this plays out across an array of important empowerment measures:

As More Girls Complete Secondary School, Stunting Rates Fall

As More Girls are Married before Age 18, Stunting Rates Rise

As Maternal Deaths Increase, Stunting Rates Rise

 

The three charts above compare rates of child stunting (a key measure of chronic malnutrition) in low- and middle-income countries against three sample empowerment indicators: rates of secondary school completion for females; rates of death from complications of pregnancy or childbirth; and rates of child marriage. Each dot represents one country. 

Measuring gender discrimination is complicated because it is pervasive. It cuts across all aspects of human life. This is why the United Nations named a minimum list of 52 gender indicators that are essential to gauging progress. (Yes – these 52 items are the minimum list). The indicators encompass five areas: health, education, human rights, public life, and economic participation.

We can see that stunting rates are lower in countries where women are more empowered – i.e., where they do better on these indicators. This is an issue that merits a more robust research agenda because it shows us an important way forward on hunger.

A note on stunting: stunting means that a child has suffered chronic malnutrition before her/his second birthday. We can “tell by looking” because stunted children are far too short for their age, but the most significant effects can’t be seen: damage to health and cognitive development. Stunting undermines how well a child does in school and even her lifetime earnings. At the national level, stunting can cost several percentage points in GDP growth. Globally, one in four children is stunted.

Visit an interactive tool on the 2015 Hunger Report website to compare global stunting rates with any of 15 important women’s empowerment indicators, view trends by region, and see where individual countries fall. Read this to learn the story of how the tool was created.   

This post is part of Institute Notes’ ongoing series on data to end hunger.

Derek Schwabe

A Global Nutrition Report: Passing Grades, But More Effort Needed

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These children will reach higher and go farther with proper nutrition. (Photo credit: accesstonutrition.org)

What is the extent of malnutrition and how effective are the measures being taken to fight it around the world? What’s being done by governments through policy mechanisms, development assistance, and donors with their program partners? Is civil society sufficiently prepared to be active partners and eventually take over efforts in their own countries? What measures of program and policy effectiveness have been developed?

The Global Nutrition Report (GNR) seeks answers to all these questions. First launched in London last month, its launch in Washington, DC, takes place today with events at the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI), which co-authored the report, and later at USAID, where Administrator Rajiv Shah will speak to his agency’s and U.S. government efforts to reduce malnutrition through its programs and policies. The GNR is a “call to action” to place malnutrition – both undernutrition and obesity – higher on the development agenda.

IRPRI notes in the GNR that "165 million children under the age of five are estimated to be stunted (i.e. low height for age). Two billion people are estimated to be deficient in one or more micronutrients. Nearly 1.5 billion people are estimated to be overweight and over 500 million to be obese. These conditions all have severe consequences for survival, for morbidity, and for the ability of individuals, the economy and society to thrive.... and yet, resources to specific nutrition programs amount to a small fraction of one per cent of domestic or aid budgets."

The GNR includes a “dashboard” of more than 80 indicators of nutrition outcomes, program coverage, funding, and political commitments for all 193 United Nations member countries, “…which they can use to hold policymakers to their commitments and urge them to make new ones.” The report was first announced at the Nutrition for Growth Summit in 2013, and its release was a main topic of discussion at the Second International Conference on Nutrition (ICN2) held in Rome last month.

The report was delivered by an Independent Expert Group and guided at a strategic level by a Stakeholder Group whose members also reviewed the report. IFPRI oversaw the production and dissemination of the report, with the support of the Institute of Development Studies (IDS) in London. The Lancet medical journal provided an external review of the report, which is funded by the U.K. Department for International Development (DFID), the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the Government of Canada, the Children's Investment Fund Foundation, the European Commission, Irish Aid, 1,000 Days, and the CGIAR Research Program on Agriculture for Nutrition & Health.

Recommendations in the report for governments, donors, NGOs, and nutrition community stakeholders include:

  • Building and sustaining global alliances to generate substantial improvements in nutritional status at the national level;
  • Larger investments in human infrastructure;
  • Scaling up nutrition interventions by scaling up local partner capacities; and
  • Expanding investments in “nutrition-sensitive” actions in agriculture, social protection, water, sanitation and hygiene, education, and women’s empowerment programs.

The GNR emphasizes that key challenges remain -- especially in the area of accountability, which must be strengthened in all areas. The report notes pointedly that relying on coordinated actions across development sectors, none of which have nutrition as the primary goal, allows policymakers to avoid responsibility.

Three suggestions were made for improving accountability and leadership. First, in the new set of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) for 2030 that is currently being developed through a global process, the nutrition stakeholder community needs to ensure that more ambitious SDG targets are set, including a target for nutrition, and that additional nutrition indicators are included. Second, national legislation and policies must insist on accountability among nutrition stakeholders, including self-evaluation and monitoring processes for member countries of the Scaling Up Nutrition (SUN) movement.

And finally, there is an urgent need to fill the huge gaps that remain in collecting nutrition data. As an example of this, the report says that only 60 percent of the 193 member states of the UN have sufficient data to assess whether or not they are on course to meet global targets.

Without better data and stronger accountability, we stand to lose much of the global momentum on fighting malnutrition that has been built in just a few years’ time. The next GNR could contain more failures than passing grades. But if we sustain the political will that has been created, build local capacities, and scale up successful nutrition interventions, a goal once thought to be merely aspirational gets ever closer: ending hunger and malnutrition in our lifetimes. Scott Bleggi

Second International Conference on Nutrition: Moving the Discussion Forward

In the 20 years since the first  International Conference on Nutrition (ICN), global awareness of the critical role of nutrition in human development has grown to record levels. Today, the dual problems of malnutrition -- undernutrition and obesity – are the focus of efforts by both governments and private companies. Undernutrition rates have dropped in the intervening years, but obesity has grown to the point where it now kills more than three times as many people as undernutrition. 

The first ICN was seen as an opportunity to bring leading nutrition scientists together with governments to address a growing problem. ICN2, being held this week in Rome, goes further by finalizing the wording of a Declaration on Nutrition, as well as details of its implementation, and seeking the signatures of the governments in attendance.

The proposed declaration is a pivotal document that, after reaffirming commitments made at the 1994 ICN and at World Food Summits, sets out specific plans of action and international targets that will lead to the eradication of all forms of malnutrition. Action items include reshaping food systems through public policy; improving nutrition by strengthening institutional capacity and encouraging collaboration among all stakeholders; promoting initiatives for healthy diets before pregnancy, through the 1,000 days period of early childhood, and in schools; and ensuring that a framework with actions and objectives is integrated into the 2030 global development agenda that will be finalized in the coming year.

Advocates are concerned about the very small role of nutrition thus far in this Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) process: there are more than a dozen goals and nearly 200 targets, but nutrition is mentioned only once. The declaration also asks the United Nations General Assembly for its endorsement and declares a “Decade of Action on Nutrition.”

Proposing such aspirational goals for ICN2 has led to wide-ranging discussions. Some have criticized the declaration’s lack of accountability and spending targets. Others have criticized its lack of emphasis on nutrition-sensitive issues such as water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH), and a lack of recognition that nutrition directly impacts health interventions.  Another point raised is that in order to make advances in nutrition, there must be economic solutions as well. Critics have also pointed out that in some countries, “donor interest in nutrition is waning.” It is in fact true that scaling up successful nutrition outcomes in a district, region, or country requires multiple-year planning and adequate funding.

One bright spot of ICN2 was Pope Francis adding his voice to the fight against hunger and malnutrition.  

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Pope Francis addresses political leaders at ICN2 Photo credit: FAO

In his apostolic exhortation, Evangelii Gaudium (Joy of the Gospel), Francis said, “We are scandalized” by not having enough food for everyone and the resulting hunger. In his remarks at ICN2 on November 20, Francis said that food, nutrition, and the environment must be viewed as global public issues at a time when nations are more tightly linked with each other than ever before. He admonished global leaders to make sure their pledges to assure food security for all citizens are put into concrete practice, saying that the right to a healthy diet is about dignity, not charitable handouts.

The U.S. government’s commitment to improved nutrition increased when it began to fund the Global Health Initiative (GHI), which is now complemented by nutrition components of the Feed the Future initiative. Recognizing nutrition as a concern that crosses traditional development sectors, USAID adopted and has begun to implement a Multi-Sectoral Nutrition Strategy. Other government agencies and offices have begun working on a Global Nutrition Coordination Plan that will encourage collaboration and hopefully add value to the efforts of individual programs to improve nutrition. Finally, the House of Representatives has introduced H.R. 5656, the Global Food Security Act, which has a primary objective of reinforcing programs that “accelerat[e] inclusive agricultural-led economic growth that reduces global poverty, hunger and malnutrition, particularly among women and children….”

The objectives of ICN2, the policy goals of U.S. government nutrition strategies, and passage of H.R. 5656 are all reachable if we are, in the words of Roger Thurow, “outraged and inspired” to take action on global hunger, poverty, and malnutrition.

Scott Bleggi

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