2020 – The year to accelerate towards the elimination of stunting

By Martin Short, Chief Executive Officer, The Power of Nutrition

“Ending malnutrition has always been a moral imperative. But it is also an economic necessity and a huge opportunity,” writes Martin Short, CEO of The Power of Nutrition, in this opinion piece about the urgency of accelerating progress towards eliminating stunting and the critical opportunity the 2020 Nutrition for Growth Summit offers.

2020 could prove to be a significant year – in more ways than one.

Brexit, with the UK leaving the European Union. The US Presidential election in November. COP 26 in Glasgow. The Tokyo Olympics. In one way or another, whatever the outcome in each of these events, it could leave you cheering or asking what the next step forward for progress is.

One global event that many in the development community are looking forward to is the Nutrition for Growth summit in Tokyo. Eagerly, we prepare for what should be a key occasion in December 2020. For those 94 stakeholders, including 26 governments, who signed the Global Nutrition for Growth Compact at the 2013 Summit, it will be a chance to reflect on the impact of previous pledges and to renew their commitments to fresh ones. It will also be a new opportunity for others to pledge, to make an investment with their influence, support and finances for nutrition.

Six years on from that original commitment, and nearly five years since the birth of The Power of Nutrition, we have undoubtedly seen some progress in addressing various forms of undernutrition. But, with 149 million children around the world suffering from stunting and poor nutrition continuing to cause nearly half (45%) of deaths in children under-five (3.1 million children each year), nutrition still gets less than 1% of the official development assistance budget[1].

infographic on stunting and wasting

NUTRITION STILL GETS LESS THAN 1% OF THE OFFICIAL DEVELOPMENT ASSISTANCE BUDGET. 

– MARTIN SHORT, CEO, THE POWER OF NUTRITION

With these high levels of stunting amongst children, we can expect the number of stunted adults to continue to growThis will have a huge impact on nutrition related health costs on countries, as well as the productivity and prosperity of their workforce and ultimately on their economies.

While there has been some success, the challenge remains great and achieving more becomes more complex. We have far to go to attain the UN’s Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 2 to end hunger and all forms of malnutrition by 2030, as well as the more immediate World Health Assembly (WHA) pledge of “a 40% reduction in the number of children under-five who are stunted” by 2025.

When the global community agreed to these targets, a step change was taken. We now need a change in gear, to accelerate and make urgent progress against them.

Ending malnutrition has always been a moral imperative. But it is also an economic necessity and a huge opportunity.

Evidence of the link between stunting and economic growth is clear and undeniable. In 2016, The World Bank showed that:

  • Early nutrition programmes can raise adult wages by 5 – 50%;
  • Children who escape stunting are 33% more likely to escape poverty as adults; and
  • Reductions in stunting can increase GDP by 4 – 11% in Asia & Africa.[2]

Challenges remain. Governments and policy makers should be convinced that investing in nutrition for mothers and children is as important for a country’s economic growth as is investing in, for example, infrastructure projects. While decisions on choice are always difficult with limited resources, studies have shown how every $1 invested in nutrition yields $16 return[3] – that statistic alone should qualify investment in nutrition as an economic priority.

With government providing the right enabling environment, where there is, for example, rule of law and proper regulation, the private sector will invest and create jobs that can lift an economy. Moreover, business success will be better served and achieved by investing in nutrition. Good nutrition for mothers and children provides the foundation for a future healthy and productive workforce, a better waged population and economically active consumers.

WITH THESE HIGH LEVELS OF STUNTING AMONGST CHILDREN, WE CAN EXPECT THE NUMBER OF STUNTED ADULTS TO CONTINUE TO GROW. THIS WILL HAVE A HUGE IMPACT ON NUTRITION RELATED HEALTH COSTS ON COUNTRIES, AS WELL AS THE PRODUCTIVITY AND PROSPERITY OF THEIR WORKFORCE AND ULTIMATELY ON THEIR ECONOMIES. 

– MARTIN SHORT, CEO, THE POWER OF NUTRITION

mother and child - cote d'ivoire
Photo by Mavis Owusu-Gyamfi, The Power of Nutrition Director of Investments, Côte d’Ivoire 2019

Focusing on SDG2, The Power of Nutrition has taken an active role in accelerating progress and making the nutrition aid market more efficient. Our unique funding platform encourages and enables the convening of partnerships where governments, businesses, multilaterals, foundations and individuals can come together to invest in large-scale nutrition programmes to reduce stunting.

Coalescing different players and working through national governments under a single programme, not only maximises results and sustainability by utilising their diverse expertise, but also minimises the inefficiencies of multiple smaller – and often single-focus – initiatives and avoids the risks of duplication. This approach leads to the defragmentation of a sometimes clunky nutrition aid market, streamlining a new, more flexible space for greater impact.

Building on proven, long-established interventions, and yet moving away from traditional aid structures, our model has proven to be successful.

To date, we have mobilised over US$430 million for programmes in 11 countries. In just three of those investments, in Liberia, Tanzania and Ethiopia, approximately 28.5 million people have gained access to vital nutrition services, taking us a step forward towards the elimination of stunting. Yet there is still much work to do.

BUILDING ON PROVEN, LONG-ESTABLISHED INTERVENTIONS, AND YET MOVING AWAY FROM TRADITIONAL AID STRUCTURES, OUR MODEL HAS PROVEN TO BE SUCCESSFUL. 

– MARTIN SHORT, CEO, THE POWER OF NUTRITION

A momentum is building for the Nutrition for Growth summit in December. The summit, and the period leading up to it, will allow the global community to focus on its nutrition commitments. It will, as stated on the summit’s website, be “a historic opportunity to transform the way the world tackles the global challenge of malnutrition”.

2020 will be a significant year. There should be a gear change to drive us forward collectively, to make this the decade where the 2030 sustainable development goal of ending hunger and, significantly for The Power of Nutrition, the WHA targets on stunting and wasting in children under-five years of age are attained.

Working towards the summit, we are looking to attract new and diverse investments for our current country programmes and beyond. Strengthening relationships with governments and the right private sector partners will be key here for all the reasons mentioned above, as well as contributing to building a business case for investing in nutrition as part of the shift from moral imperative to economic opportunity.

Cognizant that strong partnerships can achieve far more to improve nutrition than any organisation can do alone, we are identifying – in tandem – key global moments, initiatives and processes to build momentum, to secure commitments in the run up to Tokyo’s Nutrition for Growth summit, and to transform the way the world tackles undernutrition. To do so will improve people’s lives, make a significant impact on a country’s economy, and create healthier, more prosperous and resilient societies.

Join us to transform the way the world tackles undernutrition.

@MartinWShort

@FundNutrition

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