The Hon. Mike Rann AC CNZM is the Chairman of the Board of Trustees at The Power of Nutrition.
As world leaders look to 2021 and create plans to tackle the biggest global health challenges, now is the time for governments, businesses, investors, academics, and NGOs to prioritise nutrition – it is fundamental to strengthening people, communities and economies for the future.
Earlier this week, world leaders and the nutrition community gathered virtually for the Nutrition for Growth (N4G) springboard event – a platform to showcase new policy, impact and financial commitments to nutrition and to formally launch a Nutrition for Growth Year of Action.
This event was timely and necessary. Many global commitments to ending malnutrition expire this year, and COVID-19 forced the 12-month postponement of the Tokyo N4G Summit – stalling financial injections for nutrition in countries where it is needed most. This week’s event kick-started the closure of a huge chasm in funding. It also signalled a reminder to the wider development community that investing in basic infant and maternal nutrition, even during a global recession, is critical if vulnerable societies are to survive and thrive.
At The Power of Nutrition, we know that nutrition underpins many other areas of growth and development. Good nutrition saves the lives of infants and mothers, improves cognitive development, and unlocks economic potential by enabling children to grow into productive members of their communities. Undernutrition inhibits physical development and makes children more susceptible to disease and infection. As the world faces a prolonged COVID-19 pandemic, nutrition must be embraced as global priority for investment.
Nutrition pledges must be central to development responses
Government commitments made at the digital N4G event by Canada, Bangladesh, Japan, Pakistan and others were welcomed – alongside the UK government’s announcement from Wendy Morton MP of continued support for The Power of Nutrition.
Seeing tangible pledges to place nutrition at the heart of development during a financial recession shows these governments truly understand the value of investing in nutrition for their people and countries, while recognising how their voice is essential to kickstart action from others.
Our hope is that governments and organisations intending to set 2021 financial pledges follow through, and that development budgets place nutrition as an integrated, strategic priority, across all portfolios and aid programmes.
The far-reaching impact of COVID-19
Integration is the key point here. COVID-19 triggered many emergency hunger relief and humanitarian funds, but these alone will not be effective in tackling the pandemic’s far-reaching consequences.
The newly launched Standing Together for Nutrition report reveals the dire extent of COVID-19 and the nutritional crisis. Childhood stunting and wasting in low- and middle-income countries is expected to dramatically increase and will cause massive long-term negative effects for families, communities, and countries. The additional burden of undernutrition is projected to cause $29.7 billion in productivity losses and to mitigate this, an extra $1.2 billion of annual nutrition funding is needed – a conservative estimate, and this is on top of the existing $7 billion in annual spend needed to meet the World Health Assembly’s 2025 nutrition targets.
Reversing this spiralling crisis requires financial resources and commitments from the donor communities, public and private sectors. Much more can be achieved if we unite behind a whole-systems response to build back better after the pandemic.
A collective response is critical to building stronger communities
Helping our world’s most fragile states to build stronger communities cannot be achieved without ending the cycle of undernutrition, and this requires investment in sustainable nutrition. As a UK-based charity, we recognise the critical role institutions play and we continue to urge governments including the UK to integrate nutrition into aid spend plans for 2021. This will help address the widespread impact of the pandemic while ensuring development funds provide maximum value for taxpayers.
However, government funding alone is not enough. Private sector backing is imperative, and collaboration between sectors encourages sustainable, scalable programmes that make a real difference.
The Power of Nutrition leverages government spend to raise additional private sector and philanthropic funds. This way we multiply public grants by four – providing one of the best returns on investment in the developing world. In just five years we have helped mobilise $470 million in funding for programmes that are providing more than 48 million vulnerable women and children with access to essential nutrition interventions to tackle stunting. Our model guarantees value for money for taxpayers, by driving their contributions further in a targeted way.
Our continued success will not be possible without commitment from governments, businesses, NGOs, foundations, and others to finance and advocate nutrition as an essential human right and an effective investment in capital.
After a year of global health and economic crises, and as we look towards a host of milestone platforms which interconnect with nutrition – including the Tokyo N4G Summit, the UN Food Systems Summit and the UK’s hosting of the COP26, the G7 Presidency and the Global Partnership for Education Summit – it’s time that together we make 2021 the “Year of Nutrition”.