Developing strategies to end hunger
 

113 posts categorized "Good Governance"

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

The “Third Way” of Women’s Empowerment

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Policy discussions of U.S. development assistance that promote women’s empowerment tend to head in two directions: improving women’s ability to participate in the economy and increasing girls’ enrollment in school.

There’s no question that policymakers should indeed be talking about these dimensions of empowerment. But I wish they’d also talk about what I’ll describe as a “third way”: increasing the share of women leaders in government. Here we scarcely hear a word.

The eight Millennium Development Goals include a goal to promote gender equality and empower women. One of the targets is to increase the percentage of women in national parliaments to 33 percent. Globally, women currently hold about 25 percent of seats in national parliaments. Given that women are half the population, I think it’s fair to say that they are still grossly underrepresented in government leadership. In addition to the obvious injustice here, there are implications for efforts to end hunger and poverty. Experience worldwide shows that when women gain a larger share of political power, governments enact more policies that reduce gender inequalities and promote women’s empowerment.

Earlier this year I was in Rwanda, the only country in the world where women hold a majority of the seats in the national parliament. Sixty-three percent of Rwandan parliamentarians are women. One way countries have increased the share of women in parliament is by reserving a fixed percentage of seats for women. These countries include Rwanda, which reserves 30 percent of seats for women. But in the last three election cycles, women’s share of parliamentary seats has increased from 49 percent to 56 percent to 63 percent. Clearly, it’s more than the reservation policy that has brought a majority female parliament to Rwanda.

I went to Rwanda because I wanted to see the effects on policy development of having a majority of women in parliament, and I guess I wanted also to test my own assumptions about women’s leadership. I tend to think that the fastest way to reduce gender inequality and promote women’s empowerment is to elect more women to office. I’m all for improving women’s ability to participate in the economy and increasing enrollment rates of girls in school, but those are part of the longer-term strategy. A reservation policy allows a society to put gender equity on the fast track by giving a jolt to the status quo.

Having a female parliamentary majority has made Rwanda a more equitable society. For example, all proposed legislation is reviewed to determine whether it perpetuates or reduces gender bias. No piece of legislation that moves through parliament escapes this scrutiny. That’s the kind of jolt I’m talking about.

In the 2015 Bread for the World Institute Hunger Report, When Women Flourish…We Can End Hunger, we recommend that all U.S. development assistance include similar gender analysis – aimed at ensuring that policies and programs do not perpetuate gender inequalities or discriminate against women and girls. In practice, this would mean, for instance, that agricultural development assistance must serve female and male farmers equitably.

A major change like this might even produce a great enough seismic effect to affect how the U.S. government conducts domestic policy. Here in the United States, women hold less than 20 percent of seats in Congress. In the 1970s, when Congress was debating the Equal Rights Amendment, policymakers considered congressional reservations as a way of giving women more political voice. This was not the sole reason the ERA failed to gain ratification, but an association with the ERA may be one reason we scarcely ever hear members of Congress -- including women -- talk about political reservations as a strategy to increase the share of women in Congress.

It is difficult to imagine what the impact on legislation of a female majority in Congress would be. Perhaps there would be no difference at all, although I doubt it. There is too much room for improvement. Just one example: the United States remains the only developed country in the world that does not offer paid maternity leave. I suspect that would change if there were a majority of women in Congress. Todd Post

Benefits of Addressing Neglected Tropical Diseases and Malnutrition in Tandem

(Blog was originally submitted to the Sabin Vaccine Institute and the Global Network for Neglected Tropical Diseases in support of their policy brief Toward a Healthy Future: Working Together to End Neglected Tropical Diseases and Malnutrition, endorsed by 22 global health organizations)

Nutrition is a foundational element in human development, and a growing body of evidence shows that it is a vital link across international development sectors. Although nutrition was once solely the domain of public health professionals, development assistance practitioners in agriculture, education, gender, and water/sanitation/hygiene (WASH) are realizing that their successful project outcomes can have a direct and positive effect on nutrition.

Does a value-chain project in horticulture or livestock production improve nutrition? What about efforts to keep girls in school an extra year or two before they assume family and village responsibilities? Does improved hand-washing and food preparation hygiene improve nutrition?  The answer to all these questions is a resounding yes!

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WASH activities are nutrition-sensitive! Photo credit: Sabin Vaccine Institute

The number of people in the world affected by at least one of the 17 NTDs listed by WHO is approaching 1.5 billion, and we know now that NTDs can damage a person’s nutritional status at any point in life. Worse, contracting an NTD can cause infection and other problems that cancel out or even reverse efforts to improve nutrition.

As nutrition started to be at the core of development assistance across sectors, it was clear that a comprehensive strategy to coordinate efforts was necessary. In May 2014, USAID announced its Nutrition Strategy. Bread for the World Institute participated in its development, along with other members of the nutrition stakeholder community (advocacy and operational partners of USAID).

The nutrition strategy recognizes the essential role of nutrition in human development (especially during the “1,000 Days” period from pregnancy to age 2). Moreover, the strategy acknowledges that high rates of chronic malnutrition can cause significant losses in a nation’s GDP and impose other economic costs. The USAID strategy also lays the foundation for the development of a comprehensive Global Nutrition Coordination Plan among all U.S. government offices.

The strategy treats nutrition as “multi-sectoral”-- meaning that effective nutrition interventions can be made not only in health programming, but also in agriculture, education, and WASH projects. The most important direct nutrition interventions include 11 “essential nutrition actions” articulated by the World Health Organization and identified as particularly effective in fighting malnutrition in the research published in the Lancet Maternal and Child Nutrition series. Indirect nutrition actions are nutrition-sensitive activities that target the underlying causes of undernutrition, and direct interventions can be complemented by indirect nutrition actions for maximum impact. In fact, combining direct and indirect actions by “bundling” projects that include both has been found to be the most effective development investment a country can make.

USAID is committed to the World Health Assembly 2025 Nutrition Targets and is developing additional nutrition targets it will use to track and evaluate its development assistance. Included in these is a target in Feed the Future of reducing stunting  by 20 percent in five years in regions where this initiative has programs.

Companion legislative bills have been introduced in the Senate and the House that would authorize Feed the Future as the government’s primary program for global food and nutrition security. Despite recent improvements reported by FAO, there are still 805 million chronically undernourished people in the world. With legislation, we can solidify U.S. leadership in fighting hunger and malnutrition, build and improve upon vital work that has been done, and leverage a government approach across all sectors and programs to meet specific goals for progress against global hunger and malnutrition.

Scott Bleggi

Children’s Mortality Cut By Half

A new report, issued by UNICEF along with other U.N. agencies and the World Bank, highlights a dramatic decrease in child mortality. Since 1990, the number of children under age 5 who die each year has been cut in half: from 12.7 million then to 6.3 million now. This is a remarkable achievement that amounts to saving 17,000 lives every day.

Looking at it another way, the rate of decline in child mortality is falling three times faster than previously projected. As a result, 100 million children are alive who would have died if the death rate had remained at 1990 levels—including 24 million newborns that would not have made it more than a few weeks.

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Girls playing in Angola, which still has the world’s highest rate of under-5 mortality. Young children there are 25 times more likely to die than those born in the United States.  © UNICEF/NYHQ2007-1773/Nesbitt

The report, Committing to Child Survival: A Promise Renewed, says that the child deaths over the past 20 years were largely preventable. There were large geographical disparities: where a child was born made a big difference as to whether he or she survived.

Together, sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia were the homes of 80 percent of those who died. In sub-Saharan Africa, one in every 11 children die before their fifth birthday. That is 15 times the death rate in high-income countries, where an average of one in 159 children don’t reach their fifth birthday.

Moving forward, the most important area in which to focus health and nutrition interventions is the first month of a child’s life, which is called the neonatal period. Two million infants die within a week of birth. Some effective and low-cost interventions for both mothers and children are available. These could make a big difference, but sometimes this needs to be communicated to pregnant women, their husbands, their families, and their communities. For example, breastfeeding within an hour of birth reduces the risk of neonatal death by 44 percent—but less than half of newborns around the world have that opportunity.

The “Promise Renewed” of the report title has two goals. The first is to keep the promises of Millennium Development Goal (MDG) 4 — to reduce the under-5 mortality rate by two-thirds between 1990 and 2015, and MDG 5 – to reduce maternal mortality by three-fourths in this time period.  The second goal is to keep moving forward, beyond 2015, until no child or mother dies from preventable causes. In 2012, nearly 180 governments pledged to scale up efforts and speed up the decline in preventable maternal, newborn, and child deaths.

The Institute has written extensively about the MDGs, most recently in a blog about another recent report, the 2014 State of Food Insecurity in the World,  whichconfirms that the goal of halving hunger that is part of MDG 1 is within reach. What’s clear in both reports is that despite recent successes, a concerted effort focused on MDG goals and targets must be sustained. Further country-led development efforts in nutrition, health, and agriculture are key to achieving the goals.

The U.S. contribution to the MDGs is largely made through two USAID programs, the Global Health Initiative (GHI) and Feed the Future (FtF).  Congress has enacted legislation on the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, PEPFAR (part of GHI), through which nutrition funding is authorized. FtF currently lacks formal authorization through legislation, but both the House of Representatives and the Senate are considering versions of the Global Food Security Act, which will make FtF part of U.S. law.

U.S. efforts in international agricultural development and nutrition largely focus on the 1,000 Days, the “window of opportunity” between a woman’s pregnancy and her child’s second birthday.  Leading economists agree that development assistance investments here yield a very high rate of return. More importantly, these investments save mothers’ and children’s lives.

Scott Bleggi

 

World Hunger Drops from 868 Million in 2013 to 805 Million in 2014

Today the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) released the 2014 edition of The State of Food Insecurity in the World (SOFI). The report, Strengthening the Enabling Environment for Food Security and Nutrition, confirmsthat the Millennium Development Goal (MDG) target of cutting the rate of hunger in half is indeed within reach. But the MDGs expire at the end of December 2015, so time is growing short.

According to the report, the global number of hungry people fell more than 100 million over the past decade, and by more than 200 million since 1990-92.

Despite all the progress, several regions and sub-regions still lag behind. In Sub-Saharan Africa, more than one in four people are chronically undernourished, while Asia, as the world's most populous region, is home to the majority of hungry people - 526 million.

SOFI2014The absolute number of hungry people—which takes into account both progress against hunger and population growth—fell in most regions. The exceptions were Sub-Saharan Africa, North Africa, and West Asia.

According to a statement by the heads of the three U.N. agencies (FAO, IFAD, and WFP) that jointly publish the annual SOFI report, "This is proof that we can win the war against hunger and should inspire countries to move forward, with the assistance of the international community as needed.”

                                                                                                        

Dr. Jomo Kwame Sundaram, FAO Assistant Director-General provides an overview of the SOFI key findings

Additional information on global hunger:

2014 State of Food Insecurity in the World (Executive Summary)

Food security indicators – download the data

Quick Facts on Hunger

1.  Some 805 million people in the world do not have enough food to lead a healthy active life. That's about one in nine people on earth.

2. The vast majority of the world's hungry people live in developing countries, where 13.5 percent of the population is undernourished.

3.  Asia is the continent with the greatest number of hungry people – two-thirds of the total. The percentage in South Asia has fallen in recent years, but West Asia’s rate has increased slightly.

4. Sub-Saharan Africa is the region with the highest percentage of hungry people:  one in four people.

5. Malnutrition causes nearly half (45 percent) of all deaths in children under 5 – that’s 3.1 million child deaths each year.

6. One in six children in developing countries -- roughly 100 million -- is underweight.

7. One in four of the world's children are stunted. In some countries and in the poorer regions of others, the proportion rises to one in three or even higher. Stunted children do not reach their full physical or intellectual potential.

8. Studies estimate that if women farmers had the same access to resources as men, the number of hungry people in the world could be reduced by up to 150 million.

9. Across the developing world, 66 million primary school children attend classes hungry.

10. The WFP calculates that $3.2 billion is needed each year to reach all 66 million.

Faustine Wabwire

Moving Forward from the U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit

Last week, President Obama hosted the historic U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit in Washington, DC. The summit, whose theme was Investing in the Next Generation, brought together 50 leaders from across the African continent, members of Africa’s civil society, private sector actors, and various faith communities. The three-day summit, August 4-6, focused on strengthening trade relations between the United States and African nations and opening new economic partnerships that are based on mutual responsibility and mutual respect.

The summit took place in the context of the Obama administration’s deepening engagement with African countries. In June 2012, President Obama released the U.S. Strategy Toward Sub-Saharan Africa, which outlined a comprehensive U.S. policy for the region. This strategy reflects and builds on many of the initiatives launched earlier in Obama’s presidency, such as Feed the Future. In addition, the Strategy supports the integration of existing U.S. government initiatives to boost broad-based economic growth in Africa, including through trade and investment.

SummitPhoto: White House

The African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA), signed into law in 2000 by President Clinton, remains the most important piece of legislation that defines trade relationships between the United States and Sub-Saharan Africa. Since the legislation went into effect, the region’s exports have increased by more than 500 percent, from $8.15 billion in 2001 to $53.8 billion in 2011.  AGOA applies to only a small portion of these exports, since during this period, about 95 percent of Africa’s exports outside the continent were oil and gas.

AGOA’s achievements illustrate its great potential to spur economic growth. Agriculture-led growth, which has the greatest impact on poverty, is still urgently needed. The food price crisis of 2007-2008, followed by the worldwide economic downturn, have meant an increase in hunger and malnutrition and continued high poverty rates. An estimated 80 percent of Africa’s hungry and poor people support themselves through agriculture.

AGOA is due for reauthorization in 2015. Bread for the World championed the authorization of AGOA in 2000 and has remained engaged ever since. As Bread for the World President Rev. David Beckmann said during last week’s summit, facilitating regional trade that supports smallholder farmers and local businesses amplifies the efforts of U.S. government-funded programs such as Feed the Future and the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC). U.S. agriculture and trade policy – for example, the structure of import tariffs and an assortment of commodity payments made to U.S. farmers -- has sometimes undermined African countries’ efforts to use agriculture to take the first steps out of poverty. A robust AGOA, however, has the potential to boost the livelihoods of hungry and poor people while allowing them to determine their own development path and invest in the future generations.

During his visit to three African countries in 2013, President Obama announced two new initiatives designed to spur economic growth and investment on the continent. Trade Africa aims to both encourage greater regional integration and increase trade and investment between the United States and sub-Saharan African countries by aligning U.S. assistance with national government and private sector priorities. 

Power Africa, on the other hand, is led by the private sector. The goal of this innovative initiative is to double access to electricity in Africa, where more than 600 million people currently lack access. At the summit, Obama announced a renewed commitment to Power Africa, pledging a new level of $300 million in annual funding to expand the project’s reach. The new goal is to provide 30,000 megawatts in additional electrical capacity, increasing access by at least 60 million households and businesses. The president also announced $6 billion in new private sector commitments, bringing the total private sector investment in Power Africa to more than $20 billion. Some of the additional commitments are part of Beyond the Grid, a new sub-initiative announced at the U.S-Africa Energy Ministerial meeting in June of this year. Beyond the Grid will foster private investment in off-grid and small-scale energy solutions that focus on remote areas.

So far under Power Africa, 12 U.S. government agencies have begun working closely with African governments, both to identify and overcome the key legal, regulatory, and policy constraints to investment and to implement policies that will enable good governance and sustainable growth for Africa’s growing power sector. Early experience shows that carefully targeted capacity building in trade and investment aids efforts to reduce hunger and malnutrition and achieve other critical development initiatives. Significant progress is made possible, for example, by reducing post-harvest losses associated with lack of access to cold storage facilities.

The Africa Leaders Summit highlighted several opportunities for trade and investment to intersect with efforts to end hunger and malnutrition. To make the most of these opportunities, U.S. government initiatives should adopt a coordinated approach that is data-driven, goal-oriented, and strategic, and that builds on the experience of relatively new U.S. foreign assistance programs such as the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC), and Feed the Future.

Faustine Wabwire

What are Block Grants? Can They Help End Poverty?

Block grants are big news these days, since they form the centerpiece of Rep. Paul Ryan’s anti-poverty proposal. The plan suggests taking all the money the federal government currently spends on 11 different programs for low-income people (including SNAP, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), and several housing programs) and giving it directly to the states in the form of “Opportunity Grants.” 

Girl holding toy blocks
Photo by Miki Yoshihito

That’s all a block grant is: money given straight from the federal government to the states with a fair amount of leeway to use as they see fit.  In the Ryan plan, states would have to demonstrate that they actually used the money to help poor people, and they would have to follow several other guidelines, but they could each create their own anti-poverty programs.

Block grants have pros and cons. Some of the disadvantages cannot be avoided, while others can be mitigated by careful design and implementation of the grants. Here are three broad ideas about block grants in general and the proposed Opportunity Grants in particular:

They need enough funding. Imagine that you’ve been offered a job getting all the kids in your neighborhood to school. Your new boss says, “You get a choice in how you’re paid. Would you like $1,000 a month, or the cost of a bus pass for each kid?” Those are, respectively, a block grant and an entitlement program. You can see that in some situations, the flat amount might be great -- if transportation is cheap and there are only a few kids in the neighborhood, for example. But what if the bus company raises fares or dozens of new kids move into town? 

The same situations can arise with block grants for anti-poverty programs. When there’s a natural disaster, a recession, or inflation, there’s no additional money to respond. In policy terms, that means that block grants are not “countercyclical”: they don’t work to counter changes in economic cycles. Making block grants more responsive to dire circumstances and emergencies requires setting money aside in a contingency fund—and, of course, that money needs to come from somewhere. 

Also, let’s say you choose the flat rate, and you don’t get a raise for a decade or two. Worse yet, your boss shows up and says, “Next year, we’ve budgeted $850 a month instead of $1,000.”  That’s what has happened to many federal block grant programs — their budgets are cut and/or they fail to keep up with inflation.

What if $1,000 didn’t meet the costs of getting all the kids to school in the first place? This is the situation for some of the federal programs that would be folded into an Opportunity Grant: they are already insufficient to meet current needs. SNAP doesn’t last the whole month, TANF only serves a fraction of poor families, and there are long waitlists for other types of assistance (New York City alone has nearly a quarter-million residents on the waitlist for public housing). Keeping the same level of funding is better than making cuts, but it does not solve problems that are there at the outset.

States are not magicians. Giving states money and hoping they have better ideas than the federal government about how to use it may or may not be a good idea, depending on the state and the situation. But it is certain that block grants aren’t a panacea for poverty.  They don’t do anything specific to get community groups more involved. Paul Ryan’s plan refers to the wonderful work of Catholic Charities and other groups, but the reality is that such organizations are already receiving a significant amount of federal funding. States will need oversight to make sure they use their money well. And what happens when a state chooses to focus assistance on people it deems “deserving,” leaving others hungry and destitute?

As our recent experience with  Medicaid expansion under the Affordable Care Act shows, allowing states to set up their own systems can create a confusing patchwork of programs, and some states might even choose to reject the money altogether. States already get a fair amount of leeway in how they administer programs; here, for example, are the state options for SNAP. By creating a menu of possibilities for states to choose from, the federal government is able to evaluate what works—and to expand the best practices nationwide.

One of these things is not like the other.  Some of the programs that Paul Ryan wants to fold into the Opportunity Grant are already block grants – for example, the Community Development Block Grant. Other programs focus on particular groups of people or provide very specific forms of assistance. Rep. Ryan says his goal is to allow states maximum flexibility, so that families who need child care but not rental assistance—or vice versa—can be better served.  But one thing absolutely everyone, rich or poor, needs to do is eat.  As Bread for the World has pointed out, block-granting SNAP would make it harder for the program to handle spikes in need. And people can wait longer for almost anything else than for food.

Another reason that including SNAP in an Opportunity Grant is a bad idea: it would enable states to cut off people’s nutrition assistance more easily. This includes children, who are 44.5% of all SNAP participants but have no role in setting or meeting their families’ goals. States would also be allowed to use block- grant funds for things other than nutrition assistance. While transportation passes and job training are wonderful, they can’t replace food. 

 Bread for the World has welcomed Paul Ryan’s proposal, calling it “an important contribution to a serious bipartisan dialogue about ending hunger and poverty.” But it’s far from perfect, especially in its Opportunity Grants provisions. Block grants aren’t a new idea, and they aren’t an inherently good or bad idea. Whether they are effective in reducing poverty depends on how they are funded and structured, on how states use them, and on whether they are accompanied by policies that create more jobs and ensure that those jobs pay a decent wage. Any legislation that comes from Rep. Ryan’s plan would need to be carefully crafted to take advantage of the benefits of block grants while avoiding their many problems.

Stacy Cloyd

Too Many SDGs?

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Vuk Jeremić, President of the sixty-seventh session of the General Assembly, opens the first session of the Open Working Group on Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Photo source: UN Multimedia.

Late last month, the U.N. General Assembly’s Open Working Group on Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) submitted its proposal for a set of goals to succeed the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) when their deadline, December 2015, passes.

The SDGs, to be presented for approval at the U.N. General Assembly meeting in September, are an effort to accelerate and intensify the gains in human development that the MDGs began. The MDGs galvanized remarkable global political commitment from rich and poor countries alike – and this is why they inspired significant progress against poverty and hunger.

The eight MDGs are concise and easy to remember – e.g., cut the rate of extreme poverty in half, reduce maternal mortality by three-fourths. They have proven to be easy to explain to the public and to adapt to the circumstances of individual countries.  At this writing, there are 17 proposed SDGs – which run the risk of losing the simplicity that made their predecessors so popular and effective.  It may sound simplistic, but it is also accurate:  in order to spur lasting improvements, the SDGs must be marketable.

One of the most significant critiques of the MDGs has been the non-inclusive way in which they were formulated. The voices of developing country leaders, civil society, and low-income people themselves were largely absent from the MDG discussion. This is something that the UN has worked very hard to remedy this time around. A list of 17 proposed SDGs is a good sign— many more people have contributed their thoughts, making it more likely that the SDGs will avoid the blind spots of the MDGs.

Stronger global partnerships based on mutual respect are also a major theme of the Africa Leaders Summit, taking place this week in Washington, DC. The emphasis on trade in this first-ever event reflects the evolving view of U.S.-Africa relations – and U.S. relations with all developing regions – as focused on shared goals that are nonetheless country-owned. Thus, each country will pursue goals such as ending hunger by 2030 according to its own national circumstances and priorities. If well-packaged and well-presented, the SDGs will undergird this partnership model.

Keeping the list of SDGs wieldy is essential, however. Early research in the psychology of memory found that generally, human beings do not retain lists of more than seven or eight meaningful concepts at once. The results of a more recent study by psychologists at the University of Missouri, Columbia indicated an even smaller list, placing the optimal number of distinct ideas that a young adult can store in short-term “working memory” at three to five. Conventional wisdom, from speeches and sermons to advertisements, affirms this finding.  Three-point speeches are the norm, and you will never see a commercial that tries to sell you on 17 concepts at once.

Like many other stakeholders, we at Bread for the World Institute have made our case for why the issues most important to us—a goal to end hunger and a nutrition target—should be represented in the SDGs. And there are many other critically important concerns. But there are only so many seats on the plane. What’s most important in the end is that the plane is light enough to take off. If people can’t grasp the goals easily, they will have a much harder time getting behind them.

The General Assembly should explore practical ways to preserve the breadth of the proposed SDGs while making them as accessible as possible. Grouping is one possibility:  the 17 goals could be sorted into four or five descriptive categories that are easier to name and summarize.

Communicating complex ideas without oversimplifying or alienating your audience is about striking a delicate balance. The potential impact of the SDGs hangs in that balance.       Derek Schwabe

A Perfect Opportunity to Make Progress Against Hunger

Photo for African Leaders Summit

 Photo by Laura Elizabeth Pohl

Heads of state and government have converged on Washington, DC,  for President Obama's historic summit with African leaders, taking place today, August 4, through Wednesday, August 6.

In addition to its focus on advancing trade and investment in Africa, the summit will "[highlight] the depth and breadth of the United States’ commitment to the African continent and... enable discussion of concrete ideas to deepen the partnership," according to the White House.

One sign that this deeper partnership is becoming a reality is the U.S. government's four-year-old global food security initiative, Feed the Future. As we've discussed frequently on Institute Notes, Feed the Future focuses on smallholder farmers as the key to the agriculture-led growth necessary to significantly reduce hunger and poverty. In just the past year, Feed the Future has reached nearly 7 million smallholder farmers, and Bread for the World Institute President David Beckmann calls the initiative "a down payment on global food and nutrition security." For more on the future of Feed the Future, listen to a Voice of America interview with Institute senior foreign assistance policy analyst Faustine Wabwire.

The African Union, for its part, committed to ending hunger by 2025 at its 2014 summit, held in late June in Malabo, Equatorial Guinea. This year also marks 10 years since the adoption of the Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Program (CAADP), where governments committed to making agriculture a higher priority. As discussed in the Institute's short paper, The Push-Up Decade: CAADP at 10,10 of the 54 African Union member states have reached the target set at the outset of allocating 10 percent of their national budgets to agriculture.

Equipping Africa's next generation with the tools needed to build a more peaceful and prosperous future is a top priority for both African countries and the U.S. government.  The African Leaders Summit is paired with another first-of-its-kind effort, a U.S.-based training program and White House summit for 500 African leaders ages 25 to 35, part of the Young African Leaders Initiative (YALI) launched by the administration in 2010.

Simple numbers tell us why the focus must be on the next generation: as of 2012, the median age in sub-Saharan countries was 19.7 (by comparison, the U.S. median age is about 37). A startling 85 percent of all the people in sub-Saharan Africa are younger than 45.

The potential of such a young continent is enormous. But the data also point to an immense barrier to realizing that potential: hunger and malnutrition. In some countries, stunting -- an indication of chronic malnutrition early in life that affects a person's health and intellectual development for a lifetime -- affects more than 40 percent of all children.

Of the current 53 member countries of the Scaling Up Nutrition (SUN) movement, 34 are sub-Saharan African nations. SUN member countries have identified malnutrition, particularly during the 1,000 Days between a woman's pregnancy and her child's second birthday, as a critical problem in their societies. They are working together to bring proven nutrition interventions  -- many of them straightforward and inexpensive actions such as providing iron supplements to pregnant women -- to many more women, infants, and toddlers at risk. 

The African Leaders Summit, particularly today's discussion of "Resilience and Food Security in a Changing Climate," is a rare chance for leaders to use the growing partnership links between the United States and African countries to solidify global goals and concrete actions on hunger and nutrition. 

Michele Learner

For Families in Central America, Heartbreaking Decisions

Percent Change in Unaccompanied minors
Why are so many more unaccompanied children crossing the U.S. border with Mexico? Most (about 75 percent) of the new wave of minors are not actually from Mexico, but have made the long journey through Mexico from the Central American countries of Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador.

If the surge of child migrants were caused by softer U.S. policies -- or rumors of softer U.S. policies -- we would expect many to be from Mexico. After all, Mexico, which shares its long border with the United States, is the home country of the majority of undocumented immigrants here. But as we see in the above graphic, Mexico is not the source of the increase. In fact, the number of unaccompanied Mexican children has changed little, and even declined since 2009.

The primary causes are, instead, deep poverty and extreme levels of violence in Central America. The striking disparities between the haves and have-nots in Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador sustain high levels of hunger and malnutrition, particularly among young children, whose rates of stunting are soaring. At the same time, the three are the most violence-plagued nations in the hemisphere. Gangs often choose to recruit elementary school children; those who refuse to join are sometimes killed along with their entire families, and girls are frequently targeted for gang rape. This is why so many of those trying to cross the U.S. border are children and teenagers.

Honduras, El Salvador, Guatemala Lead the World in Murder Rates
As long as poverty, inequality, and weak governance persist – and often worsen – many families in these three countries face a dilemma no parent should have to face: keep their children home even though they can’t protect them, or send them on long, dangerous journeys in hopes that they will reach a safer place.

To resolve the crisis of the unaccompanied child migrants, border control is not enough. The root causes are at home. Thousands of desperate families have determined that fleeing, even with the risk of never reaching their destination, is the best option their children have. The United States can do a great deal to help alleviate poverty and enable Central American governments to protect their citizens. Read more about specific policy recommendations from the Institute’s senior immigration policy analyst, Andrew Wainer. Derek Schwabe

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