Image:  Nutrition4growth.org

by Mark Rice Global Health Campaign Manager (adapted from original ACTION blog post by Kate Goertzen)

While Australian Treasurer Joe Hockey MP was leading the Australian delegation to the Spring meetings of the World Bank and International Monetary Fund in Washington DC two weeks ago, the ACTION partnership released an important report on how Australia and other countries are implementing their commitments to improve child nutrition.

Following the Funding: Nutrition for Growth tracks the ambition and delivery of funding commitments made at the 2013 Nutrition for Growth (N4G) event, including Australia’s. As undernutrition is still the cause of nearly half of the deaths of children under the age of 5 each year, it is essential to build the political will to fund measures that combat malnutrition. The scorecard is available online or as a two-page summary as a concise guide to how donors have followed up their June 2013 commitments.


What did ACTION find?

In Australia’s case, spending on nutrition in 2013 was USD 10.3m ($A 13 million). This is consistent with the modest amount Australia pledged at the Nutrition for Growth Summit, but remains significantly below Australia’s share of the amount needed to make genuine progress on global nutrition goals to be met by 2025 (see the next section for further details of the goals). The scorecard also notes that work on developing a nutrition strategy for the Australian aid program has stalled, but nutrition is likely to be part of the broader health strategy which the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade is due to complete this year.

The 12 major donors represented in the scorecard allocated only $US 841 million in nutrition-specific funding in 2013 (or less than 1% of total aid). This sum looks worryingly like “business as usual” at the time when we need to pick up the pace if we are going to fulfil the $US 4.15 billion committed at Nutrition for Growth.

When we refer to nutrition-specific measures, these address immediate causes of undernutrition, and include: treating acute malnutrition, increasing micronutrient intake, and promoting exclusive breastfeeding. Nutrition-sensitive measures addresses the factors that contribute to malnutrition—including hunger, poverty, gender inequality, and poor access to safe water and health services—by including nutrition actions in other sectors.

The many “unknown” stamps on the scorecard also demonstrate the persistent data gaps on nutrition funding. We won’t know if promised nutrition funds are actually being delivered and having an impact unless major donors report on their payments in a way that is consistent, accessible, and transparent. Donor reporting on nutrition-sensitive funding is eagerly anticipated later this year in the release of the second annual Global Nutrition Report.

Why is this tracking important?

Global neglect of the fight against malnutrition has only compounded its devastating impact. In 2012, just over 1% of official development assistance went towards the fight against malnutrition. Thankfully, the tide began to turn in 2012 when the entire World Health Assembly endorsed ambitious goals to improve maternal and child nutrition by 2025. These goals are:

  • Reduce stunting (being very small for their age) among children under the age of 5 by 40%.
  • Reduce anaemia among women of reproductive age by 50%.
  • Reduce the number of children with a low birth weight by 30%.
  • No increase in the number of children who are overweight.
  • Achieve exclusive breastfeeding to the age 6 months for at least 50% of babies.
  • Reduce the proportion of children who are wasted (severely underweight) to less than 5%.

At the N4G event one year later, much-needed new funding to ensure we could reach these targets began to flow. Donors pledged $US 4.15 billion for nutrition-specific programs and $US 19 billion for nutrition-sensitive programs, and thousands of people in London’s Hyde Park greeted the commitments with cheers.

However, the experience of RESULTS Australia and our international partners is that careful and persistent pressure is needed to transform promises into real funding for concrete impact – and the N4G commitments are no exception.

What are the next steps?

Commitments made at N4G are undoubtedly a signal of many countries’ resolve to reach global nutrition targets. They should not, however, be seen as anywhere near enough to achieve international goals for improved nutrition. Our efforts to fund global nutrition action must go far beyond N4G commitments to include increased domestic funding, more effective investments in nutrition-sensitive activities, and innovative financing mechanisms like the Global Financing Facility for RMNCAH (GFF) and the Power of Nutrition.

The countdown is now on for the next global nutrition summit in Rio De Janeiro, Brazil in mid-2016. With just over a year to go, there are no guarantees donors will put new money on the table — even though the fight against global malnutrition is ready to take advantage of growth.

The scorecard’s findings are clear – a renewed push for progress is needed if we are to meet the global goals on nutrition by 2025 and give all children a healthy start. World leaders must be held accountable to the children around the world that they have promised to save.

In Australia’s case, thousands of people are sending emails to Treasurer Joe Hockey prior to the Federal Budget on 12 May to appeal to the Government to avoid reducing the overall aid program further in 2015-16. It is also important that we continue to argue, before and after the Budget, for nutrition to be a higher priority in the Australian aid program, to show how extra aid can make the greatest difference to children’s lives.