Tom Manuel discusses the UK All Party Parliamentary Group event on nutrition which took place this week.

This week I attended the All Party Parliamentary Group’s event on nutrition. Chaired by Lord Cameron and with panelists Lawrence Haddad (Institute of Development Studies), Sandra Mutuma (Action Against Hunger) and Mariella Di Ciommo (Development Initiatives), the event provided an opportunity for parliamentarians to come together with leading nutrition experts to discuss the political and financial commitments required to tackle the pressing challenge of under-nutrition.

The three panelists presented a comprehensive review of nutrition funding. Mariella focused on funding flows from nutrition donors, Lawrence spoke about the importance of transparency in funding and securing nutrition a place in a post-2015 settlement, and finally Sandra summarised the scale of the global challenge that under-nutrition poses.

DI’s involvement was primarily to present their new report, ‘The Aid Financing Landscape for Nutrition’, published recently. Mariella’s key points were:

  1. Basic nutrition official development assistance (ODA) funding is still small when compared to total ODA, accounting for just 0.4% of the total.
  2. Under-nutrition has only featured on the international agenda relatively recently and consequently funding has almost doubled since 2000 to US$418 million in 2011. However progress towards reaching the additional US$11.8 billion each year (which the World Bank estimates is necessary to meet developing countries’ needs) has been slow. Following a large increase in 2009, ODA to basic nutrition fell by 25% in 2010 and increased by only 3% from 2010 to 2011.
  3. Under-nutrition is concentrated in 36 countries and overall ODA targets them well – 72% of basic nutrition ODA funding goes to these countries where 90% of the world’s stunted children live.
  4. However, at a regional and country level, there are disparities between the distribution of ODA and financial need. Financial needs are higher in South Asia, which requires 56% of additional investments (mostly due to India being the home to the highest number of stunted children). However, South Asia as a region receives only 28% of basic nutrition ODA. Conversely, sub-Saharan Africa represents 26% of financial need and receives 54% of aid.

We also heard from Lawrence Haddad who talked about the launch of the Institute for Development Studies’ (IDS) Hunger And Nutrition Commitment Index (HANCI). The index measures a wide range of factors to determine overall political commitment of donor countries to tackling hunger and under-nutrition. Lawrence explained that the aim of the HANCI is to provide transparency around donor countries’ nutrition commitments. Lawrence rightly emphasised that a donor’s commitment to nutrition should not only be measured by their funding commitments but also by other measurements such as their protection of domestic agricultural markets and the sensitivity of other aid programmes to nutrition. These factors can have a significant impact on helping recipient countries reduce hunger and under-nutrition.

Lawrence went on to praise the UK’s Department for International Development (DfID) on helping to reduce under-nutrition, which is reflected in the UK scoring highest on the HANCI. Our report corroborates this – from 2006/07 to 2011/12 aid disbursed by DFID to basic nutrition interventions increased from £2.2 million to £37.5 million.

However, he also outlined some areas in which the UK could be doing better. His recommendations were not only to increase nutrition funding, but to ensure that a commitment to long-term funding is included in a post-2015 agreement. He recommended there should be more of a focus on reducing the causes of under-nutrition and that DfID should try to ensure it is fully leveraging its position as a global leader on issues on under-nutrition.

After hearing from Lawrence, Sandra Mutuma gave a presentation outlining the challenge that under-nutrition presents for developing countries and described Action Against Hunger’s (ACF) recommendations for the UK government’s policies to help address the issue. She described the scale of the problem of under-nutrition in children.  The 56 million children under 5 who are wasted have a 9-10 times higher risk of death than a non-wasted child. Overall 35% of all deaths of children under 5 have under-nutrition as an underlying cause. Even more troubling, according to ACF, is that of the ODA that is recorded as basic nutrition interventions, roughly 50% has no relevance to reducing under-nutrition. Sandra echoed our report, pointing to the lack of funding.

She then moved on to discussing how to combat under-nutrition. 95% of DfID’s basic nutrition funding is spent on therapeutic feeding, providing foods high in nutrition to starving people in emergency situations. While she recognised the importance of this, Sandra called for more focus on nutrition funding in a developmental context – preventing under-nutrition before it reaches crisis levels.

Another important issue raised was the need for flexibility of funding, as certain types of nutrition interventions result in high human resource and delivery costs. Traditionally, these have been funded by the recipient country – by addressing this and providing more flexible funding, recipient countries should be able to to cover these costs and better tackle under-nutrition.

Overall, the speakers emphasised the need for much higher levels of funding for nutrition interventions, particularly those that focus on preventing under-nutrition. The Nutrition for Growth: Beating Hunger through Business and Science summit on 8 June should provide a platform for continuing the push to make sure nutrition is included in the post-2015 agreement. This follows on from the High Level Panel Report which stressed the importance of these issues.

The full Development Initatives report on nutrition can be downloaded here and a film of the event can be found here. Mariella Di Ciommo’s slides are here.