In 2018 around 2.5 million children died of malnutrition related causes. Despite the adoption of the Sustainable Development Goal to end hunger and malnutrition by 2030 (SDG2), it seems progress has largely stalled.
However, there have been some real and life-saving advances. The number of acutely malnourished children receiving the treatment they need has nearly tripled in recent years, and we know more than ever about how to reach the most vulnerable children in remote areas through community health services.
Nonetheless, if we are to come anywhere close to reaching SDG2 targets, we need to act fast to both prevent children from becoming malnourished in the first place, and ensure that all children have access to high quality nutrition health services when they need them. This will be the challenge to governments who will meet at the 2020 Nutrition for Growth Summit in Japan, and it was the focus of discussion at a World Food Day 2019 round-table held by the All Party Parliamentary Group on Nutrition for Growth (APPG N4G).
In a session chaired by MP and APPG Co-Chair, David Linden, MPs and peers met with Minister Okada, from Japan and Jean Michel Grand, Action Against Hunger, to discuss Japan’s vision for the Summit and how UK parliamentarians and civil society can work together to promote an ambitious outcome. The UK plays a critical role in supporting Japan, because the UK led and hosted the first N4G Summit in 2013. Through UK Aid the country has also shown continued commitment to delivering life-saving programmes and playing a leading role in promoting action from the international community.
Minister Okada described Japan’s plan to drive SMART commitments from governments at N4G 2020, as well as new funding and innovative financing mechanisms. He also described the extensive work coming from global expert working groups to develop detailed proposals on the action needed to build better food systems, health systems and build more resilient communities.
Baroness Sheehan stressed the need for a ‘push’ and ‘pull’ approach, for MPs and civil society to work together to inspire action from governments in the UK and beyond. Labour MP, Alex Norris, highlighted the multiple interests of UK Aid, that risk diverting the UK aid away from its leading role in tackling malnutrition. Above all, parliamentarians were concerned that we need to prevent malnutrition happening in the first place. The actions needed to deliver on this ambition are many and diverse but food systems are critical – as Lord Cameron highlighted, ensuring that food systems support the livelihoods of smallholder producers, who are mostly women, helps them to feed their families.
We now know more about how to treat malnutrition than how to prevent it. Given the great advances in knowledge on treatment and the urgency of treating children at risk of dying due to malnutrition, there is no question that we can stop now, what was starting in the UK in 2013. New and improved commitments to action are needed from governments in low, medium and high income countries. But we can’t stop there. The ultimate goal is to prevent children getting malnourished in the first place, and if N4G 2020 can deliver SMART outcomes that get us closer to that goal it will be a major, and vital, achievement.