A Global Day of Action – Nutrition: a priority for all

By: Claire Blanchard, BSc, PhD, MPH; Scaling Up Nutrition Civil Society Network Coordinator

When children are properly nourished they can grow up to be healthy and productive. When children are healthy and productive their families, communities, and countries become stronger. That’s why countries around the world have committed to making nutrition a priority and why global partners are working together to support the efforts of the countries. Together, we can achieve what no single effort could, and make the world a healthier, stronger place for us all.

The right to good nutrition is a social justice issue

Though the world has halved the proportion of people who live in extreme poverty and has made substantial progress on other goals, ending hunger and malnutrition is an unfinished agenda. Today, the world is facing multiple burdens of malnutrition with populations suffering from stunting, micronutrient deficiencies, overweight/obesity, and diet-related non-communicable diseases (NCDs). Importantly, malnutrition in all its forms is predominantly concentrated among the poorest and most vulnerable in society, and has a particularly detrimental impact on women and children.

One of the greatest thinkers of our time, Albert Einstein, once said “We can't solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.” David Nabarro, as SUN movement coordinator, has definitely followed the vision of a new paradigm for addressing the complex issue of malnutrition. The SUN movement places multi-sectorality and multi-stakeholder approaches at the core, underpinned by principles of engagement, and under the stewardship of national leaders. Countries are owning efforts to scale up nutrition and are finding appropriate and adapted solutions.

This is why Civil Society actors are joining efforts with governments, media, UN agencies and donors are getting together for a Global Day of Action (4-11 May 2014) in support of governments who have committed to make nutrition a priority for all. Numerous events are happening for the GDA 2014 such as football matches, community gardens, floats, media briefings, high level panel, community sensitization, concerts, radio shows with civil society alongside governments, media, UN agencies, youth, women and community members in 13 countries: Bangladesh, Benin, Cameroon, Ghana, Guatemala, Kenya, Malawi, Mali, Mozambique, Niger, Peru, Uganda, Zambia. Some of the messages SUN CSAs and key partners like World Vision are advocating for GDA are presented below.

Melrose Tucker is first and foremost a mother, a grandmother and a champion in nutrition leading the SUN Civil Society Platform (CSP) in Sierra Leone. For her the reality of living in Sierra Leone is that as an effect of the civil war, there is almost a generation of stunting which is why Sierra Leone has one of the highest rate of stunting 44% moderate, 24% severe (MICS 2010). As many girls who suffered from stunting, are now small statured and give birth to children with low birth weight. “We need to break the cycle”. This means having social protection policies in place, including the extension of the maternity leave from 12 weeks to 16 weeks by 2015. This will allow women to exclusively breastfeed for the first six months of the child’s life, having a diversified agricultural system that provides nutritious foods and for mothers to have access to those, fortifying widely available food products like salt and sugar, having health infrastructures with the capacity to treat acute and chronic malnutrition, amongst others. Melrose’s dedication transpires into leading and impulsing efforts of the SUN CSP in Sierra Leone and ensuring nutrition is high on the national agenda.

GDA 2014 is also an opportunity to raise our game in 2014. 2014 is a key year in Africa for Agriculture with the African Union dedicating this as the year of agriculture, food and nutrition security. Globally, 2014 is also the International Year of Family Farming, the year of the World Cup in Brazil, a year for ensuring food and nutrition security feature prominently in the post-2015 development framework. Finally 2014 is an opportunity for ensuring the Second International Conference on Nutrition (ICN2) is a critical moment for reshaping the norms over how the food system is governed and could help to embed the work taken forward in SUN in formal government mechanisms.

Ultimately, the GDA 2014 focuses on delivering policy change, raising awareness of importance of nutrition at household level and designing policies, plans and programmes striving to build resilience and sustainability beyond political cycles at the country level

“The evidence shows that it is possible to reduce malnutrition,” says Dr. Souley. “We must set our sights high, and be ambitious. In 10 years, I hope that all countries will have stabilized their undernutrition levels and put the mechanisms in place to reach the 20-year target. It is possible if we try.” - 2013 Champion and Shortlisted Candidate Transform Nutrition

Key messages for the Global Day of Action 2014

1.Because of malnutrition in the critical 1,000 days from pregnancy to age two, over three million women and children die every year. Investments to change this could transform economies, boosting economic growth by as much as 3-11% of GDP.

2.Every woman and child has the right to a fair chance at life. And all human beings have the right to adequate and nutritious food; to be free from hunger. This right needs to be core to efforts to improve food and nutrition security.

3.For many children that survive the ill-effects of poor nutrition in early childhood, malnutrition results in poor cognitive development, decreased productivity and life expectancy.  Because malnutrition affects the poorest most, it is a fundamental driver of poverty and inequality.

4.A year ago, governments made further commitments to address this problem; fulfilling these will be essential to tackling malnutrition and mortality. Today we call on our leaders to prioritise this issue, by telling the public what they have done to make a difference in the past year and by ensuring the financial commitments are in place to deliver on their promises.

5.Malnutrition and its adverse impacts can be prevented through coordinated action by government, civil society and businesses. The first step is ensuring that countries have plans and resources in place to Scale up Nutrition. Participatory local democracy is essential and citizens must be empowered to engage directly in setting priorities. The GDA is a crucial step towards such participation.

6.Without concerted and coordinated action across government, progress against malnutrition will be insufficient. We call on leaders to ensure that key ministries, including agriculture, education, health, women and child development and social protection, include improving nutrition as a key aim of their strategies.

7.The SUN Civil Society Network is coming together to show the global demand for continued strong action on nutrition, and for holding governments to account for delivering against commitments they have made and ensuring the rights of millions of children and women are realised.