Nutrition: the key to unlocking a better world

Nutrition: the key to unlocking a better world

Good nutrition is not just necessary to end around half of the child deaths worldwide, it is the key to unlocking and accelerating the impact we can achieve through our wider efforts, be it on health, or building communities’ resilience to the shocks of disaster and climate change, or towards achieving wider economic progress.

Despite seeing some progress we are still living in a world where nearly 50 million children are acutely malnourished, too thin and at risk of illness and death. An additional 150 million children risk negative impact on their physical and mental development from long-term poor nutrition in their early years.

Malnutrition is entirely preventable and treatable and we now have Sustainable Development Goal 2 dedicated to the end of hunger and malnutrition. However, achievement of a number of the other goals is also dependent on this goal, and is likely to stall because we are off track to end malnutrition within the next ten years.

Our work to eliminate hunger

Concern has been working to eliminate hunger, ensure access to sustainable diets and improve nutrition, especially for women and children, for decades. We understand well the transformative power of good nutrition on child development and the ability of families and communities to move out of poverty.

We have developed, rolled out, tested, documented and shared approaches that bring together all the key elements of a healthy diet to ensure there are no barriers to good nutrition. These include:

  • Support to agriculture that ensures the production of nutritious foods;
  • Working with families and communities to improve their understanding of nutritious diets and healthy practices like handwashing;
  • Ensuring access to clean safe water and good sanitation to prevent illness;
  • Working with farmers, traders and financiers to ensure that affordable nutritious foods and ingredients are available to buy locally; and finally,
  • Engaging men in nutrition and child health issues which may be seen as only women’s responsibility in order to provide better support to families.
Concern midwife Rebekka at a Mobile Health Clinic in a remote rural area of Aweil, South Sudan. The mobile clinic visits five locations once a week. In the picture Rebekka is seeing Chagawa* (28) who is visiting for a check up as she is 9 months pregnant with her ninth child. Photo: Abbie Trayler-Smith/ Concern Worldwide
Concern midwife Rebekka at a Mobile Health Clinic in a remote rural area of Aweil, South Sudan. Photo: Abbie Trayler-Smith/ Concern Worldwide

When I worked on our RAIN project in Zambia, as a result of approaches such as these, I met many mothers who, through improved nutrition, saw their babies thrive because they knew more about healthy diets and practices. They began growing and producing more fruits, vegetables, eggs and milk that provided essential nutrients and vitamins to benefit households and communities. We worked not only with households but also critically to embed the approach in the government’s policy and strategy so it could operate at scale. At the same time, we were part of the Scaling Up Nutrition (SUN) movement efforts in creating a demand for better nutrition supported by effective services.

In times of shock, such as famine, displacement, climate disasters and acute illness, the poorest and most vulnerable are hit the hardest. Concern has been working for 20 years on the Community Management of Acute Malnutrition (CMAM) approach. Using perfectly balanced Ready-to-Use Therapeutic Food (RUTF) that can be administered at home itself, more and more acutely malnourished children are now being restored to good health. However, we recognise that this approach only works if there is a strong health system that can identify children most at risk, and support families with essential health care as well as ensure a supply of RUTF. So, we are also working to ensure health systems function well, and moreover are able to respond to increases in demand when crises hit.

Matron and immunisation coordinator Emielliene Mapouka (39) with six-month-old Rosalia. photo: Chris de Bode / CAR
Matron and immunisation coordinator Emielliene with six-month-old Rosalia.
One of Concern’s mobile maternal and childhood health units that provides a vital lifeline for pregnant mums and children under five.  Photographer: Chris de Bode/Panos for Concern
One of Concern’s mobile health units that provides a vital lifeline for many. Photo: Chris de Bode
Concern Program Manager Akunsito Kananji with Baby David in Malawi. David's family home was washed away with all their belongings. David's family are casual labourers. With no crops to harvest, his parent won't have any work this season. Photo: Gavin Douglas
Concern Program Manager Akunsito Kananji with Baby David in Malawi. Photo: Gavin Douglas
Habib* came with his mother Melina* to Tanjimarkhola OTP centre of Concern in Rohingya refugee camp. Photo: Tariq Adnan/Concern Worldwide
Habib* came with his mother Melina* to the Concern supported Tanjimarkhola OTP centre in Rohingya refugee camp
Chahara with her daughter Fatima at a Concern supported health centre. Photo: Apsatou Bagaya
Chahara with her daughter Fatima at a Concern supported health centre. Photo: Apsatou Bagaya

There is more to be done to achieve the end of malnutrition in this decade, and the global community is working hard to make more progress. The Nutrition for Growth 2020 Summit in Tokyo, hosted by the Japanese government later this year, will be crucial to put us back on track. The process, begun by the UK Government in 2013, aims to mobilise the resources and action needed from governments, businesses, and civil society organisations like Concern Worldwide to tackle malnutrition. The Summit provides another opportunity to come together and take collective responsibility to end this important challenge. This time, we must target our efforts better towards populations who live in the countries which are fragile in terms of governance, affected by conflict, and by frequent climate shocks however challenging and resource-intensive this is, if we are genuinely to leave no one behind.

The UK government’s own 2013 nutrition commitments end this year. Over the past seven years, DFID has developed valuable expertise on this complex issue and has become a respected donor and leader in the global nutrition space. Now is not the time for the UK to step back. Instead, it must continue to demonstrate global leadership, build on its previous commitments and encourage other donors, governments, and the private sector to do the same. We, as civil society will continue to support the implementation of these efforts, and ensure all commitments are delivered accountably.

Time to commit

Concern Worldwide UK and our partners in the International Coalition for Advocacy on Nutrition (ICAN) are calling on the UK Government to commit £800 million annually to nutrition between 2021 and 2025. Whilst this looks like a lot, it is at a similar level to previous commitments, and focuses on achieving better nutrition outcomes through existing areas of UK Aid spend.

We want to see a part of this commitment allocated towards scaling up solutions proven to have great nutrition impact such as improving rates of breastfeeding and treatment of wasting. However, the bigger proportion must go towards embedding nutrition across DFID’s wider efforts and promoting integrated responses that include health, climate, food systems, and education. Engaging country governments to improve their own national plans, leadership, and domestic resources for nutrition is another area where UK Aid can provide support.

Lastly, with its experience and reputation, the UK should lead the way in going the extra mile to improve nutrition amongst those who bear the greatest burden of malnutrition and are likely to face the greatest risk of climate shocks, as these are likely to increase in frequency and intensity over the coming years. Concern will continue to do whatever it takes to end malnutrition and hunger for the poorest and most vulnerable. We hope the UK government will join us and once again lead the global fight to end malnutrition once and for all. 

We must not let this critical moment pass us by. In the lead up to the Tokyo Summit, Concern is campaigning to make sure the UK once again takes global leadership in fighting malnutrition by making strong new commitments. Find out more about our petition and join us by adding your voice to it!

All statistics drawn from the ICAN Report, Nutrition: the Key to Unlocking UK AID’s Impact. 2019.

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